Everyone agreed, the Golden Eagles were outplayed, outworked and certainly outshot by the Milwaukee Admirals Thursday night.
They weren't outscored.Steve Guenette saw to that, stopping 55 of 59 shots on his goal and keeping the Eagles close enough to fight off the whole navy and win 5-4 on Stu Grimson's goal in overtime.
"It was quite a handful," said Guenette of the number of shots he faced, "but you do what it takes to win. Good teams, even if they aren't at their best, find a way to win."
With the victory, their fourth straight over Milwaukee and their eighth in nine playoff games, the two-time defending champion Eagles advanced to the Turner Cup championship series for the third-straight year.
Having disposed of Milwaukee, they now await the outcome of the other semifinal between Muskegon and Fort Wayne. That stands at 3-1 for the Lumberjacks, the regular-season champions, with Game 5 Saturday night.
If Muskegon wins Saturday, the championship series is to get under way with games Tuesday and Friday at Muskegon and Saturday (May 13), Wednesday (May 17) and, if necessary, Friday (May 19) in the Salt Palace. If the 2-3-2 series goes back to Muskegon, Games 6 and 7 would be May 20 and 22.
Guenette said he'll be glad to have this weekend off after the flying rubber he saw Thursday and after the emotion he went through last week when his father-in-law died from cancer.
"We didn't deserve to win that one," said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter, who then quickly retracted that. "I shouldn't say that. We were badly outplayed, but our goaltender came up with an extraordinary effort.
"They came at us with everyting," Baxter said.
"I thought they dominated the second period better than any team has dominated us all year."
Milwaukee put a club-record 27 shots on goal in that second period and spent most of the 20 minutes swarming in front of Guenette.
"You've got to give the little guy between the pipes the credit. He won the game for us," said Eagle defenseman Jim Leavins, who whacked the puck off Mark Crawford's stick at the Admiral blue line as Milwaukee started an attack. That started the final scoring play at 11:32 of the overtime.
Rich Chernomaz had made the first hit on Crawford, and when Leavins popped the puck free, Martin Simard took out another Admiral and Leavins skated in at Frank Caprice, who made his only playoff start in goal. Leavins carried the puck almost to the goal line, then hit Grimson coming up the slot for an easy series-winning shot.
"Leavins did a fantastic job drawing the defense and goaltender to himself. It probably appeared he was going to shoot," said Grimson, whose shot hit the middle of the net untouched and undisputed.
"We didn't deserve to be in it; they outplayed us in the overtime," Grimson said.
The Admirals had taken so many overtime shots that hit goalposts and not net that Baxter said, "I thought I heard the bells of St. Mary's."
Because the Eagles scored twice nine seconds apart in the second period - Marc Bureau and Bryan Deasley - the Admirals dominated the period but never had a convincing lead. Milwaukee came back with two to tie it 3-3 by Carl Valimont and Jay Mazur.
"I couldn't believe the score was 3-3," said Baxter.
Those two goals made Guenette furious because of what he and Grimson saw as interference on the part of Admiral captain Pete Bakovic. Guenette claimed the goal shouldn't have been allowed because Bakovic stuck a leg between his pads "and gave me a karate flip" just before Valimont's shot from up the slot settled into an untended net.
To the Admirals, Bakovic was checked into Guenette.
Grimson stuck up for Guenette, getting a roughing minor as well as fighting major and 10-minute misconduct. Admiral Tim Molle received fighting and a misconduct, leaving Milwaukee on a power play, and that's when Mazur scored. "The call by (referee Lance) Roberts was just awful," said Guenette. "That's two goals he gave them."
Milwaukee's Ron Stern gave the Admirals a 4-3 lead 2:09 into the third period, but Eagle Rick Lessard scored from the left point during a 4-on-4 situation that tied the game 4-4 and eventually forced the overtime.
Guenette gave Roberts credit for a gutsy call against the home team 1:48 into the overtime when a shot from the point was rebounded by Bakovic and went into the net off his lower extremity. Guenette said he kicked it in, which is illegal, and that's what Roberts ruled - no goal. "The right call," said Guenette.
"It looked like it hit his shinpad and went in (a legal way to score)," said Milwaukee Coach Rick Ley, who also thought Jeff Rohlicek was tripped up and deserved a penalty shot in the overtime, but there was no call.
"There is no justice tonight," said Ley. "We outplayed them terribly. It just wasn't in the cards.
"We got behind the 8-ball and played great, probably our best game of the year, but nothing seemed to bounce our way."
The number of shots the Admirals got, said Ley, came from "sheer determination."
"They weren't as creative as usual," said Guenette. "They just tried to get everything toward the net. That was the strategy. You could tell that the first period."
"Guenette had a great game; he was great the whole series," said Ley, now 0-2 in playoff series against the Eagles, who won their first Turner title against his Muskegon Lumberjacks two years ago. "He was the difference tonight."