WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee Wild made a concerted effort to win the second period of the second game of the North American Hockey League West Division finals series Saturday at the Town Toyota Center, and it almost worked.
They went on to lose the game 4-3, but for an instant it appeared as though they would go into the second intermission tied and on even footing with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Jono Davis put one between the pipes off a timely drop pass from center Max McHugh to cut the Ice Dogs’ lead to 2-1 to start the period.
About 16 minutes later, the home team finished off a quality scoring opportunity with a good-looking shot that a Fairbanks defender dove in front of.
Afterward, the Ice Dogs went on the attack and put one between the pipes on a broken play to take a 3-1 advantage, drastically altering the outlook of the contest.
After cutting a two-goal deficit to one earlier that period and controlling the ebb and flow during much of that time, Wenatchee was back to square one, trailing by two scores with just 20 minutes left.
“That was a tough one,” first-year coach Bliss Littler said. “But our kids didn’t hang their heads. They stayed in the battle. You just can’t win playoff games being sloppy, and we were a little sloppy.”
Things got much worse after the Wild gave up another score to fall behind 4-1 about four minutes into the third period and with that, all hopes of a comeback shrunk considerably. There was no lack of effort, though.
They outshot the Ice Dogs 37-30 and had an abundance of quality scoring opportunities paired with timely shots. But a sound performance from Fairbanks netminder Steve Perry — only one goal allowed through the first two periods — complimented by good defense kept Wenatchee from producing the offense it needed to get back into the game.
A handful of defensive breakdowns cost the Wild.
They gave up their first score of the night in the first period after their center got kicked out of a face-off in their defensive zone and a Fairbanks forward wasn’t picked up on the ensuing play, which led to an open shot on goal against Robert Nichols.
“That’s something at this time of year you just can’t have,” Littler said of the defensive miscue. “That’s a blown assignment on a face-off; it’s inexcusable. This time of year, it’s flat out inexcusable.”
Wenatchee’s back line committed another costly mistake later in the first period with about 7:30 left on the clock. A pair of Ice Dogs were attacking and the defenders, though in position, weren’t able to impede their path enough to prevent a shot and subsequent score to make it 2-0.
“We back up and we come back on a two-on-two and we’re standing right next to the guy, and we just didn’t take his stick,” Littler said. “I guess you could say those are effort goals.”
The Wild, who beat the Ice Dogs 1-0 on in Friday’s first game thanks to a late goal by David Mead, need to pick up at least one of the two contests this weekend in Fairbanks to stay alive in the postseason.
That should be an obtainable goal. The defensive lapses are fixable, Littler said.
“It’s all correctable,” he said. “It’s just a want -to thing. Sometimes when you get an effort in goal like you had with Robby Nichols the night before, players feel you can make more mistakes and the goalie will bail you out.”
Defensive lapses aside, Wenatchee has plenty to draw from going forward. Its had no creating scoring opportunities on offense and Nichols has already posted two shutouts this postseason.
“I don’t think anyone expected this to be a quick series,” Littler said. “And I don’t think anybody will be surprised to have this thing back here for a game five.”