The Surrey Eagles are just two games away from capturing the fourth Fred Page Cup in franchise history, and they have a red-hot power-play and an even hotter goaltender to thank.
Surrey has a 2-0 lead over the Penticton Vees after winning Games 1 and 2 on home ice on the weekend. On Friday, the Eagles rolled to a 5-2 win and on Saturday, goaltender Michael Santaguida stopped a season-high 50 shots to lead the Birds to a 2-0 shutout win.
“He probably stole us that game, when you look back see how many shots he faced,” Surrey Eagles coach Matt Erhart said of the 20-year-old Ontario native, who has four shutouts in the playoffs.
“He made one big (save) in the first period, and in the third, there were some rebound opportunities (for Penticton)… he made some game-savers late in the game.”
Game 3 of the BC Hockey League final is scheduled for tonight in Penticton. Game 4 is scheduled for Tuesday, also in Penticton.
Through two games, perhaps the only thing as hot as Santaguida was the Eagles’ special-teams play. Though the sample-size is small, the team’s power-play is clicking at a 37.5 per cent clip through the opening two games, and Michael Stenerson added a shorthanded goal in Friday’s opener.
Saturday, Demico Hannoun opened the scoring on a 5-on-3 power play when he snapped a wrist shot past Penticton goalie Chad Katunar.
In the second period, Nic Pierog scored his seventh goal of the playoffs – he scored just nine in 54 regular-season games – to provide the insurance goal, and Santaguida did the rest.
The netminder was especially good late in the second period, when Penticton pressed for a goal in the final minute of action, and again in the third, when the visitors pressed to break the goose egg and carried the play for long stretches. Santaguida’s best stop came off Vees’ Brad McClure, who jumped on a rebound at the side of the net and appeared to have a sure goal, but Santaguida got the paddle of his stick across the goal line to keep the puck out.
Santaguida didn’t have to be quite as good in Friday’s opening win, only facing 33 shots on net.
In fact, neither team mounted much in the way of offense in the first period – the shots were only 4-1 in favour of the Vees halfway through the frame – but the visitors got on the board first when Brook Balson, charing through the slot, tipped a shot over Santaguida’s shoulder.
The Eagles answered back near the end of the period when Peninsula native Michael Stenerson scored a shorthanded goal that relied on luck as much as skill.
Stenerson, rushing into the Vees’ zone one-on-two, cut to the middle of the ice and shot. His wrist shot was stopped by Penticton keeper Chad Katunar, but the rebound bounced off a defenceman standing in front and back into the net.
“I just threw it on net, and it went off the goalie’s chest and then off one of their player’s backs,” Stenerson explained.
“Bit of a weird one, but you take ‘em anyway you can get ‘em, especially in the playoffs.”
The goal seemed to swing the momentum into Surrey’s favour, and give the team some jump in their skates.
“That shorthanded goal was huge for us,” Erhart said.
The momentum continued to swing the Eagles’ way in the second period, thanks to a string of Penticton power plays.
Early in the period, Stenerson – who has eight goals in 11 playoff games, and five in his last three – and Craig Wyszomirski scored 31 seconds apart to boost the home team to a 3-1 lead.
“In the first period, it was pretty nerve-wracking for both teams,” Stenerson said. “You just wanna get the butterflies out and keep it simple. I thought we were a lot better in the second.”
Both second-period goals came on a long 5-on-3, as Penticton was forced to serve three penalties in the early-going of the period. First, Vees’ Thomas Nitsche took an interference penalty, and while on the way to the penalty box, took a swing at a nearby Eagle, and was whistled for roughing, as well. Then, 1:31 later, Robert Mann was called for slashing.
With three penalties at once, the Vees stayed down two men even after Stenerson’s first goal. It was only after Wyszomirski’s marker – which came on a shot from the point – that the Penticton got one man out of the box.
“I didn’t know quite how that was going to work, with the three penalties and the 5-on-3, but I’m not complaining,” said Surrey Eagles coach Matt Erhart after the game.
With the Eagles up 3-1 in front of a standing-room-only crowd at South Surrey Arena (and even those standing were three-deep in places), Penticton’s Wade Murphy cut the lead to 3-2 midway through the second period.
The third period was scoreless unti Hannoun restored Surrey’s two-goal lead. Pierog made it 5-2 with an empty-net goal with 15 seconds remaining.
The next game at South Surrey Arena, if necessary, is Game 5, which is slated for Thursday. Game 6 – again, only if the series goes that long – would be played Sunday in Penticton.