A short overtime need not lead to a short series. Jason Dickinson snapped in the game-winner in the first minute of overtime for the Guelph Storm, preempting any chance the North Bay Battalion had to continue outplaying and outshooting the favourites like it had over the second and third periods.
Dickinson's decider salvaged a night where the sluggish Storm failed to record a shot on goal for the first 10 minutes of the third period. Zack Mitchell scored through a screen with 7:37 left in the third and first star Justin Nichols came up with an acrobatic toe save on a subsequent power play to get the Storm into the sudden-victory session.
Now the question is whether North Bay was denied its best chance to steal one on the road after failing to finish off Guelph.
"I don't know if we played the way we want to approach this series, but I think that we realized there's a good team on the other side of the ice," Nichols, who made 32 saves, told Rogers Television. "We're going to learn from this game and hopefully improve."
Storm coach Scott Walker was much more direct about his dissatisfaction.
"They're a quality team," he told a post-game press conference. "Our first period was fine. We weren't even close after that."
The Storm host Game 2 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet). On with the post-game questions:
Storm 3 Battalion 2, OT (Storm lead 1-0 and host Game 2 on Friday) — What is the basis for the argument the real Storm materializes on Friday? This game, with Guelph never leading until Dallas Stars first-rounder Dickinson stuck the dagger with a shot off the rush after co-opting defender Brenden Miller as a screen, was a lot like the Storm's openers in each of the past two rounds. In both instances vs. the Erie Otters and London Knights, they were running on something fewer than eight cylinders, yet eked out a late win.
Without a sharp effort from Nichols, Guelph would likely be down 1-0.
"To be honest with you, we have to play better," Walker said. "We have to focus on winning our battles, skating more and we can't take for granted that we're here. We got to start skating. We did it in the first [by outshooting the Battalion 16-6] and then it was like we weren't satisfied. It was like there was something more out there and there isn't anything better than being here."
North Bay, which got goals from New Jersey Devils-drafted wing Ben Thomson and veteran Jamie Lewis, set the pace in the second and third frames. Premium chances were few and far between. With fewer than eight minutes left, though, defenceman Phil Baltisberger cut off a pass at his own half-wall and headmanned to Robby Fabbri, who cruised ahead and dropped the puck Mitchell as he entered a 400-series highway wide shooting lane. That was a lapse the Battalion could not afford.
"I think it took us a little while to adapt to the speed," Battalion coach Stan Butler said. "It was a little quicker than in our last few games. I thought we did that in the second and third period. I thought it was a pretty even game. We have check hard up ice, track pucks hard. On the second goal, you give Rob Fabbri some time, he finds Zack Mitchell ... if we allow them time and space, they'll do some damage."
How well will the Battalion bounce back? Game 2 isn't a veritable must-win since the Battalion should have a healthy modicum of confidence about being able to win twice at home. As much as letting a third-period lead get away stung, North Bay could take some confidence out of the fact it withstood some early shakiness. It also twice took leads.
"We were pretty excited and I think you could tell that we were bit nervous from the mistakes we made," captain Barclay Goodrow said. "Hopefully we'll learn from it and come out better tomorrow
"The advantage [of playing Friday] is that you can get right back at it," the San Jose Sharks signing added. "You don't lose too much of the momentum."
The tension of being a first-time finalist ought to lift for Game 2. Goalie Jake Smith, playing on his 19th birthday, also came up with a money performance. Mitchell's equalizer came with Kerby Rychel planted in Smith's field of vision, while Dickinson's shot on the OT goal might have changed direction.
"I feel bad that we couldn't have got Jake a birthday present," Butler said. "I thought both goalies were good tonight. What you want is a chance to win every night and Jake's given us that."
Will Guelph be more patient and poised on Friday? As Walker alluded to, the Storm did spend 2½ periods playing into Butler's trap — and that is merely a reference to a well-conceived game plan, not the actual system North Bay employed (wink).
The Storm have at least seen it at full speed, which might help with making some tweaks for the next tilt. Really, though, the way the night unfolded did evoke Game 1 of the Western final vs. Erie, where the Storm had enough talent to win the day.
"We just got to focus on what we're doing, not worry about what they do," Dickinson said. "|[In the last 10 minutes of the third] we were playing intense, we were skating."
Nichols theorized that Guelph, coming out of a series where it dominated an Erie team that tallied 24 more points than North Bay, might have been due for an only-OK effort.
"Maybe they [his teammates] expected that it was going to be easier than it was," he told Rogers TV. "This was something that was maybe going to happen after the exciting victories that we can had. If these guys can just take what happened and regroup, I think we're going to be fine."
Will there be some more animosity in Game 2? It was a little tame, with North Bay going 1-for-2 on the power play and Storm taking the collar at 0-for-4. A Thomson cross-check to Storm wing Justin Auger in the final five minutes of regulation might have been the hairiest moment.
"The last time we saw these guys was early February," Nichols said. "They picked up momentum through the last few weeks and on into the playoffs. It's really not the same team that you saw in the regular season. Their goaltender is playing well, they're well-coached. I'm sure after a few more games like this, there'll be quite a rivalry."
Chances are, it could jump up a notch on Friday.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.