Thunder draw even with Red Deer in opening playoff round
It was the answer the team needed.
After being thumped 10-2 in its opening playoff game against the Red Deer Vipers, Feb. 23, the Airdrie Thunder evened up the best-of-seven series with a 5-4 win at home, Feb. 24.
“When you get blown out (like we did), you wonder how your team’s going to respond,” said Thunder head coach Cam Aplin.
“They could’ve turned it into a short season and we responded really well.”
The team responded in a disciplined fashion, however, that was not the case in the Thunder’s opening loss to Red Deer. Seven minutes after Gavin Klein scored to make it 3-2, Alex Diduch was given a five-minute major and 10-minute game misconduct high-sticking penalty and the Vipers made Airdrie pay.
Kolten Gillett of Red Deer scored on the Diduch penalty and he added two more goals to complete the hat-trick before the Thunder returned to full strength. But penalties continued to plague Airdrie and the Vipers scored five more unanswered powerplay goals before the final buzzer.
Goaltender James Fisk began the game in net, but was pulled after the fourth Red Deer goal from Gillett.
It wouldn’t help the Thunder’s case, as backup Kade Taplin also struggled and allowed the last six goals.
Taplin played in the Game-Two win and stopped 31 of 35 shots.
“I think we underestimated Red Deer going into (Game One),” Taplin said.
“We played a full 60 minutes (in the win) and it was a good turnaround. We figured out their breakout and that they had the cross-ice pass. It was definitely better than yesterday.”
Aplin said the team made adjustments to the penalty kill after Game One and said the differences were noticeable, especially with the man advantage.
Dylan Johnston opened the scoring for the Thunder in the 5-4 Game-Two win with Aidan Crowther netting a powerplay marker to give the team a 2-0 league. Alex Hustad had two tallies, both powerplay goals, while Gavin Klein also added his first goal of the playoffs.
A scrambled third period and pressure from the Vipers had the Thunder back on its heels and goals from Chris Robertson and Justin Corbett brought Red Deer within one, but the Thunder held on to tie the series at one.
“We’ve struggled in the third period all season,” Aplin said.
“You want to see the guys pull one out and get some confidence because we’re a fragile team when it comes down to the last few minutes of the game.”
While he needed the entire team to step up in Game Two, Aplin lauded the line of Klein, Tyler Perkins and Dane Gallant and said the speed they played with is what the team needs.
The Thunder travelled back to Red Deer for Game Three Feb. 28 (after press time) and the next home game will be March 1 at 8 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena. Fisk will be back in net for Airdrie.
“I think we went into Red Deer a bit too tentative and maybe a bit nervous,” Aplin said. “We gave them to much respect, so we have to come out with the same intensity (that we did today).
“We had a lot of urgency in our game and pressure them.”