Sunday, March 1, 2009

Overtime Heartbreak, Retraction, Barclay

Last night's game was what sports writer Bill Simmons calls a "stomach punch game" for Smokies fans. Trail was terrific all night and looked set to earn a split on the road. However, as it has been lately, it seemed like the hockey gods are against them. From major season ending injuries to very strange turns of events, the Smokies just don't ever seem to get the bounces.

If only one of their odd man rush chances had gone in to extend their lead to 3-0 or 3-1. Jebson continued to deny Trail's shooters... if they had extended that lead we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Quickly I want to apologize for being so hard on Brett Corcoran after the shorthanded turnover that turned into Westside's first goal. I didn't see it from my vantage point, but I'm told that Brett took an elbow just as he was getting set to release the puck. Corcoran has been very good for Trail so far in the playoffs including his key play on the 5 on 3 to help Trail convert on both of those chances. Up in the press box last night I couldn't understand how Corcoran ended up turning that puck over right onto the stick of Schultz in Trail's zone while the Smokies are on the PP. It turns out my answer was that he took an elbow and that caused the turnover. Very unfortunate for Trail that the referee missed it and Schultz buried the opportunity.

Speaking of unfortunate, the penalty shot call was borderline as well. From what I understand the rule about touching a puck in the crease is that you can be penalized for falling on the puck in the crease or picking up the puck from the crease area. Did Bulach pick the puck up and throw it or did he push it away with his glove? To me it wasn't cut and dry. I'm far enough away from where we were that the call really could have gone either way. The part that is so frustrating is not that it was necessarily a totally blown call, it's that lately it seems like so many factors conspire to stomp out Smokies victories. Not a conspiracy so much as just repeated kicks to the gut for a team that is working so hard.

Sean Nugent probably also wasn't feeling good after the game as Gagne stole the puck from him to score the OT winner. Well Nugent was a force last night and if it wasn't for his work on the puck (including generating the first goal for Trail) they wouldn't have made it to overtime. Same as how if it wasn't for Corcoran's execution on the power play Trail wouldn't have had a 2-0 lead. The unfortunate thing for Trail lately seems to be that when they do make a mistake it creates the kind of unstoppable clear cut opportunity that results in a goal.

Credit the Westside Warriors for taking advantage of the chances they get. Sometimes that's the difference between winning and losing. The Warriors have opportunistic skilled players who will burn you when they get wide open opportunities. A guy like Gagne was mostly invisible all game after coming back from injury, but give him one chance and he'll kill you. That's why Westside is up 2-0.

Boy did Paul Barclay make it hard on Westside last night though. After a rough game 1 he was absolutely fantastic in game 2. That was perhaps the best game I've seen Barclay play and under the most intense pressure. Is this perhaps a landmark game for the Smokies goaltender? The only way the Warriors could beat him last night was when they had clear cut breakaways essentially. Elite players like Schultz, Reid and Gagne coming in all alone? Not too many goalies are going to stop those. Barclay stopped 43 other shots including a ton of them through traffic to give Trail a chance to win last night. He was spectacular and deserved a victory.

The whole team really gave it everything they had. They had the Warriors on the ropes and unfortunately Westside got back up. The Warriors won the round, but we're not at the final bell yet. Trail can beat these guys. They were so close last night. They played right with them in both road games. All it will take is a win tomorrow night to get them right back in this thing.

Don't give up hope yet Smokies fans. They were fantastic yesterday. With some strong support from you Trail fans on Monday night it could push them over the top.

Lets fill that rink tomorrow and I honestly believe some playoff magic could happen.

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