The CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins lived and died by the sword on the weekend.
In this case, the sword was a late rally.
The Bruins surrendered four goals in the final 12 minutes in a 5-3 loss to the Battlefords North Stars on Sunday, two days after a late equalizer led to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Nipawin Hawks.
Both games were played at Spectra Place. On Sunday, the Bruins (25-24-0-1) missed an opportunity to make up a point on the second-place Yorkton Terriers, who are six points ahead of Estevan. The Melville Millionaires, meanwhile, are four points ahead of the Bruins with three games in hand.
Sunday’s game saw the Bruins play a textbook first two periods against the Stars (35-12-0-2), taking a 3-1 lead into the third, before the visitors turned up the heat.
“We dramatically lost our focus in terms of what we were trying to do out there,” Bruins head coach Keith Cassidy said of the final frame. “We talked about that going into the third period, that we’d put together a solid 40 minutes but that didn’t really mean much.”
Blake Tatchell scored twice in less than two minutes midway through the period to tie the game. The two goals were similar. On the first, Tatchell buried the puck behind a lunging Tyler Ross from the slot at 8:16. On the second, all five Bruins and several Stars were crammed into the goalmouth when Tatchell lifted the biscuit over all the bodies into the back of the net.
“The way they scored at least two of those (third period goals) was ‘let’s get the puck close to the net and just shove everything and everyone (at the net),’ said Cassidy. “They got greasy and did what it took to get the two points, and that’s a sign of a good team.”
Tanner Quinn scored the winner at 13:44, only 15 seconds after a Bruins power play had ended.
Ryne Keller would add an insurance marker with two minutes left, tipping a point shot past Ross.
“This is a very, very good lesson for us. The minute you relax against a good hockey club, you’re done,” said Cassidy.
The Bruins had taken a 2-0 lead after a first period that saw them dominate the play and fire 18 shots at Stars goalie Graham Hildebrand, who kept his team in it.
Tyler Poskus produced the first strike at 14:26, burying a rebound after Hildebrand had foiled the Bruins several times during a scramble.
Four minutes later, Derek Whitehill tipped a Connor Milligan point shot to make it 2-0. The Stars got on the board on a power play midway through the second when Jordan Ethier sent the puck across the line just as the net was knocked off. The goal was ruled good.
Dylan Smith would restore Estevan’s two-goal lead less than three minutes later on a man-advantage, taking a cross-crease pass and tapping it past Hildebrand. Final shots on goal were 40-29 for the Bruins.
“Our biggest problem isn’t our skill or our strength or anything like that, it’s our maturity as a team to be able to stay focused on the task at hand for 60 minutes,” said Cassidy.
“I want our guys to learn from this, be reminded that we are a good hockey club and when we do have our mind engaged in the game, we can be a dominant team.”
On Friday, Zach MacLellan saucered the puck into the goalmouth and it deflected off Smith’s stick past Nipawin goalie Taran Kozun for the winning goal 57 seconds into overtime.
“He really stepped up there. I think you saw again his patience and poise with the puck and his ability to make things happen from the back end. It really paid off, especially in the overtime there,” Cassidy said of MacLellan’s play on the winner.
The Bruins had trailed 2-1 after the second period, but Calder Neufeld’s goal with 1:18 left in regulation forced extra time.
Matt Brykaliuk threw the puck into the crease and Smith and Neufeld both whacked at it before the latter found pay dirt.
“I was just sitting backdoor there and Smith couldn’t get it up so I just walked in, it came right to me and I lifted it up as quick as I could and it went in,” Neufeld said of his second goal of the night.
Wheaton King and Darius Cole scored for Nipawin in the second period. The Bruins fired 45 shots on Kozun, including 17 in the third as the Hawks’ netminder stood on his head.
“We were firing shots from all angles and that was our game plan, just get it on net and hopefully something goes in,” said Neufeld.
Cassidy said he saw a difference in how his team handled a hot goalie as opposed to earlier in the season.
“They’ve got that belief now that if they just keep plugging away, it’s going to happen. When that happens to a team, you can be pretty scary.”