It was a roller coaster ride that quickly turned into a house of horrors for Devante Smith-Pelly.
One moment the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors forward was hitting the apex, scoring a controversial game-tying goal against the Owen Sound Attack with less than six minutes left in the third period Friday night.
"It felt great," said Smith-Pelly, of his second goal of the game to force overtime. "It felt like we had all the momentum in third period and we figured it would carry over into the overtime."
In the intermission, the Majors dressing room was focused and upbeat, having rallied from a two-goal deficit after a video review overturned a goal that was initially waived off by referee Dave Lewis because the net was off the moorings. The replay showed the net leaning slightly, but still attached to the metal tubes anchoring it to the ice as the puck crossed the line. When Lewis finally put down the phone and signalled the goal – awarded to Smith-Pelly – to tie the game 5-5, the Hershey Centre's 4,053 fans erupted. The fans making the trek from Owen Sound loudly booed the decision, while the Mississauga faithful were overjoyed.
That joy was short-lived. Before Smith-Pelly knew it, he and the rest of the Majors were sent back to the dressing room in defeat as Attack defenceman Matt Petgrave scored 56 seconds into the extra frame to win Game 3 of the OHL Final. The win cut Mississauga's lead to 2-1 in the series.
"It was deflating, especially with all the positive (energy) in the room and on the bench," said the 18-year-old second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks. "We figured if we kept playing like that it would be our game. For them to just come down like that and score, it was a tough one.
"It's going to sting for a little bit."
The Majors have had a reputation for being potential comeback kids after Smith-Pelly scored a late game-tying goal to rally Mississauga from a three-goal deficit in Game 4 of their second-round series against the Sudbury Wolves, once again, to force overtime. Their eventual victory in that game to sweep the Wolves and another rally to win in overtime against Niagara in the Eastern Conference final was not lost on Attack head coach Mark Reeds.
"I saw a couple of games and I know they played Sudbury and came back " and came back against Niagara as well in a 2-1 game and won early in overtime," said Reeds. "That"s sitting in the back of your mind when they tied it up (in Friday's game)."
Not that either team will have lots of time to contemplate the intricacies of what was, for the Majors, an uncharacteristically sloppy game and, for the Attack, a must-win heading home to Owen Sound for Game 4 on Sunday afternoon. In the earlier two games, it was the Attack who had looked flat and unable to generate offence.
"We're sitting there with a 2-0 deficit, so if we don't respond with a game we're capable of playing it was going to be a much bigger uphill climb," said Reeds. "We thought that we could play better and we thought that we could be a little more aggressive on the forecheck and try to get in and create something."
What they were able to create was a number of breakaways and odd-man rushes, the likes of which hadn't been seen all year at the Hershey Centre with the defensive-minded Majors. In the entire 68-game regular season, the Majors had only given up three shorthanded goals all year. Yet they gave up a shorthanded marker to Attack forward Robby Mignardi in the first period, a goal that highlighted uncharacteristic lax defensive play by the Eastern Conference champs.
"That first period, we referred to it as 'the full moon period,'" said Majors head coach Dave Cameron. "I was waiting for a werewolf to come out of somewhere. It was just one of those games.
"That's what makes this great – is that you can X it and O it and video it all you want – but then you have to drop the puck. It's a game of mistakes. But it was just one of those weird, wild games that I really have no clue what happened."
In order to shake up his squad, Reeds started goaltender Michael Zador in favour of netminder Scott Stajcer, who had started every game for the Attack since starting the second round of the Western Conference playoffs on April 7. Zador"s last start was on April 3, in Game 6 of the first round when he made 23 saves en route to a shutout of the London Knights to end the series. It was a gamble that ended up paying off for the Attack as they rallied behind Zador giving him the defensive backup he needed to make 33 saves.
"What can I tell you? Sometimes you make hard decisions and it worked in my case," said Reeds.
Prior to the game, Stajcer, dressed in a cream-coloured suit, sat and talked with his teammates on the Owen Sound bench while they were busy taping their sticks and preparing for the puck drop. It was sophomore goalie Jordan Binnington that would serve as backup leaving Stajcer to sit in the stands.
On the opposite end of the ice, Majors goalie JP Anderson might have had the toughest night, struggling with 21 saves after having looked so impressive in the first two games.
"I'm sure if you ask JP, there are a couple of those goals he"d like to have back," said Cameron.
According to Cameron, the key to Game 4 will be to stay out of the penalty box and keep the Attack from once again pressuring them into sloppy mistakes. But, says the coach, once you reach this point of the playoffs he's nothing more than a hostage to the performance and execution of his players.
"I hope somebody pays the ransom after this performance tonight," Cameron said.