The Swift Current Broncos scored three goals over 1:36 to advance to the Western Hockey League championship series with a 5-1 win over the host Lethbridge Hurricanes on Monday.
The Broncos overcame a slow start with the final five goals to defeat the Hurricanes four games to two in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final. The Broncos will now face the Everett Silvertips in the championship series, their first appearance in the championship series since 1993. The Hurricanes were 8-0 at home before suffering the season-ending loss in front of 4,929 fans at the Enmax Centre.
“First of all I would like to congratulate the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Peter Anholt and Brent Kisio and his staff,” said Broncos head coach Manny Viveiros. “I thought they did an outstanding job with their hockey team. They gave us everything that they had. We were really worried, really worried. This series could have went either way. They could have easily won this series. We got a little bit of puck luck at the right time. Congratulations, they did an outstanding job with a really young team. Probably a real good chance that Lethbridge could be in our situation next year, that’s how good they are. A real good organization.”
The Broncos were fortunate to escape the opening frame down only 1-0 after being outshot 20-2. Defenseman Calen Addison scored the only goal with a screened shot from the high slot with 3:24 left in the period, his fourth goal of the series.
“We never got off to a good start,” admitted Viveiros. “We talked about us coming here and not being on our heels and get going right away. I thought we looked really tentative and a little bit nervous at first. I thought Stu [Stuart Skinner] played outstanding that first period and kept us in the game. We were fortunate enough to get out of that first period 1-0. We just went in, I told the kids, ‘Listen, we’re three rounds in deep, one win away from going to the finals.’ I says, ‘That’s not who we are again.’ I said, ‘Listen, we’re a team that we play better when we’re skating, we’re aggressive, we’re moving and we’re having fun and it looks like, our first period, I’m not saying we didn’t have fun, but it looks like we’re not enjoying it.”
The Broncos came storming out of the dressing room in the second period and were rewarded with three goals over 1:36. Matteo Gennaro snapped home a shot 6:33 into the period and then Aleksi Heponiemi followed up 29 seconds later when he tucked a puck under the arm of Logan Flodell for his third of the post-season. Beck Malenstyn added a shorthanded goal 1:07 later to make it 3-1 to end an 18-game goalless drought after scoring in the playoff opener back on March 23 against Regina.
“Again, our big guys got us going again. We started establishing a forecheck and we were able to get going again. We are pretty lucky because we have a team that once we get going we can score pretty quick. Very proud, very proud of our kids of how they handled the situation after the first period,” said Viveiros.
“It didn’t look pretty in the beginning, but I’m happy that we stuck in there,” said Skinner, who made 19 saves in the opening period against his former team. “We bent a little, but we never broke. That’s all that matters. We came out hard in the second period and obviously in the third period. I know I had 20 shots in the first period, but after that I had maybe six, seven shots in the next two periods. So it was a lot of fun. I had a blast, especially with teammates. Just really excited to go to the finals.”
Giorgio Estephan tipped in another goal on the power play in the third period, his seventh goal of the series against his former team. Malenstyn added an empty net goal to close the series scoring.
“Just so happy,” said Estephan after the win. “I mean we battled so hard in these playoffs, kind of been going through a lot of long and tough series. It’s good to be rewarded in the end, we are going to the championship. So I mean it doesn’t get much better than that for sure.”
Stuart Skinner earned the win with 33 saves, while Flodell took the loss with 22 saves on 26 shots. Skinner now leads the WHL with a 2.32 goals against average and a 0.927 save percentage to go along with his 12-6-2 playoff record.
The Broncos are now 7-3 at home and 5-5 on the road during the post-season. The Broncos will have home-ice in the next round, beginning Friday and Saturday at the Innovation Credit Union iplex in the 2-3-2 series format. The Broncos lost the only meeting this season, 4-1 to the host Silvertips back on January 21 while playing their fourth game in five days during their US Division road trip.