The Estevan Bruins have officially punched their ticket into the 2019/20 SJHL playoffs following a dramatic victory inside the famed Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.
Isaiah Thomas scored the overtime winner at 2:13 into the extra frame to cap off a hat-trick and vault the Bruins to a 5-4 win over the Bombers.
The Bruins needed only a point on Friday night to clinch a berth in the playoffs, but were focused on sending a message to Flin Flon as it’s possible the two teams may face each other in the quarterfinal round of the postseason in two weeks.
The home team had won the last two games between the Bruins and Bombers, with Estevan losing 9-2 just three weeks previously in Flin Flon but defeating Flin Flon under two weeks ago 6-2 in Estevan.
It would be the Bombers getting on the board first as Hayden Clayton scored just 1:51 into the game to make it 1-0 Flin Flon. However the Bruins would push back as the period went on, including an Eddie Gallagher shot that rang off the post, as the Bombers led 1-0 after 20 minutes of play.
In the 2nd period, the Bruins would completely take over control of the game scoring four unanswered goals to take a commanding lead.
Just 1:43 into the period, Thomas would dance over the blueline, draw the defence towards himself in the slot, then send a perfect pass to Erik Boers who shot in his 4th goal of the year to tie the game at 1-1. Devan Harrison also assisted on the goal.
Only 26 seconds later, Tanner Manz would beautifully deflect a point shot by Alex Von Sprecken to make it 2-1 Bruins at the 2:09 mark. The goal was Manz’s team-leading 20th of the season, with Kersey Reich also drawing an assist.
The Bruins would head to the powerplay midway through the period and convert to make it 3-1 at the 9:26 mark. The Bruins worked the puck around near the blueline with Harrison passing to Jayden Davis who dropped a backhand pass over to Thomas. Thomas ripped a shot through a screen set up by Boers and past Flin Flon’s Cal Schell for the two-goal lead.
Then at the 14:35 mark, Gallagher would fire a cross-ice pass from his own end to Thomas in the neutral zone. Thomas stickhandled his way over the blueline, gathered the puck around the top of the circle, and snapped a shot short-side past Schell for his second goal of the game to make it 4-1 Bruins after 40 minutes. Cody Davis also assisted on the goal.
The Bruins were able to hold off Flin Flon’s high-octane offence throughout the first half of the 3rd period, as it remained 4-1 until the final eight minutes of regulation. That’s when Flin Flon began storming back.
At the 12:09 mark, Donovan Houle snapped home a shot past Bruins’ starter Randy Cooke to make it 4-2. Less than two minutes later at 13:56, Matt Raymond scored to trim Estevan’s lead to 4-3.
The Bombers would complete the comeback at the 17:30 mark with Cole Rafuse scoring off a bank-pass from the end boards to beat Cooke and tie the game at 4-4. Neither team would break the tie before regulation ended, as the Bruins would head to overtime for the second straight game after defeating La Ronge in a shootout two nights earlier.
In the extra frame, the two teams would trade high-quality chances with both Schell and Cooke making big saves during the 3-on-3 session. Then at the 2:13 mark of overtime, the Bruins would capitalize during a line change for the game-winner.
Jayden Davis would pass the puck backwards into the neutral zone to Devan Harrison and head off for a line change. Harrison held the puck as Thomas came off the bench to replace Davis and Harrison hit him with a pass. Thomas caught the Bombers’ defence in the middle of their own line change, charged in all alone on a breakaway, and snapped a perfect shot top corner for the hat-trick and game-winner in a 5-4 overtime victory for the Bruins. Thomas celebrated all the way to center ice where he was mobbed by his teammates celebrating one of the most impressive wins of the season.
Randy Cooke (34/38) was outstanding making a second straight start, and has won his last 5 starts in net. Cal Schell (26/31) was tagged with the loss for Flin Flon.
The Bruins (1/1) executed on their lone powerplay opportunity in the game, while shutting down Flin Flon (0/2) who have the top powerplay in the SJHL this season.
As mentioned, the win clinches a playoff berth for the Estevan Bruins as they became the 8th and final team to secure a spot in the postseason. However, the win also leapfrogs the Bruins over the Humboldt Broncos into the 7th seed in the standings.
The Bruins are only 4 points behind the 6th-place Nipawin Hawks, as the two teams will face each other on Saturday night with the Bruins closing out their 4-game road trip inside the Centennial Arena in Nipawin.