When everything’s dead even on the ice, good fortune can be a mighty fine asset to have on your side.
Fortune was definitely on the Wenatchee Wild’s side in Friday’s 1-0 home win over a very competitive Fairbanks Ice Dogs squad in a contest that was completely even until the 11th hour.
The teams battled one another for 58 minutes, trading checks and matching shots on goal with spectacular saves. But it was the Wild who capitalized on a scoring opportunity from an unlikely source to take a 1-0 lead in the North American Hockey League West Division finals.
Defenseman David Mead sat near the back door of Fairbanks’ goal and caught the puck out of the air after it went off his stick. His first shot, a backhand, didn’t go in and he got knocked to the ground. Mead got on his feet, rebounded and lit the lamp with 2:11 left in regulation.
The score came shortly after a lengthy stretch of play during which the Ice Dogs were threatening in Wenatchee’s defensive zone.
“It was really lucky,” Mead said of his first score of the postseason. “I’ll take it if that’s what you have to do to win a game in the playoffs.”
Mead came up big for Wenatchee in a contest that could have gone either way. Statistically, both teams were identical.
Fairbanks recorded 18 shots on goal and went 0-for-1 on the power play — the Wild finished with 17 shots on goal and were also 0-for-1 on the power play.
While Mead deserves plenty of credit for breaking the stalemate, goalie Robert Nichols was a rock for Wenatchee.
“Both teams had some good chances, both goalies played well and our goalie made one more save at the end than theirs did,” bench boss Bliss Littler said. “We got a fortunate bounce there and obviously most of the time David Mead’s not parked in front of the net.”
Nichols made a number of quality saves and put a stop to a handful of open-goal breakaways. He appears to be in top form for the team’s playoff run: The 20-year-old netminder has given up just one goal in his last 120 minutes in the net.
“Guys are playing hard in front of me, so it makes my job easier,” he said. “When we take care of the puck and play smart, it helps out a ton.”
Obviously, the victory puts the Wild in a good position and should be a source of momentum as they continue to duke it out with Fairbanks. But their work has just begun.
Friday night’s contest ended with a scrum against the boards and both teams fighting for the puck as the final buzzer sounded. Through physical play, tenacity and a little luck, Wenatchee wound up on the right side of the score.
The series is in its infancy stage, though. And if Friday’s slugfest is any indication, it’s going to be a good one.
“You can’t get too high or too low,” Nichols said. “You have to come back and battle hard. Right now, you look at it and you’re happy. But we have to get right back after it tomorrow.”