Following a disappointing outcome at the Spengler Cup, Medveščak returned to Zagreb and the KHL as Slovan Bratislava came to town. It was the sixth game of the year between those two teams, and out of the previous five games, the Bears carry a 3-2 record. A record which would improve to 4-2 Sunday night.
Medveščak got off to a better start, dominating the first ten minutes of play as a sense of urgency with the Postseason being on the line clearly visible. However, midway through the first frame, Slovan got on the board first and tallied again shortly later to make it 2:0 for the Slovaks.
“It’s tough“ said Bill Thomas. “Their first goal was a nice, upper corner shot. Their second goal, it’s a tough bounce that hits one of their guys in front and any time it takes a bounce on a goalie, it makes it more difficult. On those things we work on in practice, getting screens in front of the goaltender, misdirection shots. That didn’t really take away from what we did. We didn’t give up many shots in the first period, we really stuck with our game plan, we created a lot of scoring chances, we just weren’t able to capitalize“
“We started off with ten minutes of pretty good chances, we should have had a 2:0 lead, and instead they had two goals“ said Edwin Hedberg
“It’s a goofy game“ said coach Doug Shedden. “We go to the Spengler Cup and score one goal in three games. I was asked a question yesterday, why are we so bad in the first period? Well, number one, you’re in last place, you’re bad in every period. We had a good first period, I couldn’t believe coming in after the first period, I was so mad that we were down 2:0. I said, “how can this be“? I thought we played really well, it was frustrating. That 2:0 lead on the road is a tough lead to handle, so we said just win the second period and we’ll be alright“
Two quick goals by former Medvescak forward Matt Murley at 3:43 and 5:54 of the second period doubled Slovan’s lead, and Medveščak’s worries. Mark Owuya was replaced in net by Cal Heeter.
“You know what, he (coach Shedden) didn’t say much after that“ said Thomas. “He understood that we were playing well. It was just that we needed a bounce, a break, we needed something to go in for us, we needed something to happen for us to get that confidence back and we were able to do that“
Then, however, a comeback was on the loom.
“Now we’re down 4:0, I thought Mark didn’t make any saves for us that needed to be made, changed the goalie and we got a lucky goal. Billy Thomas gets a lucky goal off a bad angle and it feeds momentum, and you get another one after that. We knew they hadn’t played for a while so we wanted to put as much pressure on their defence. You get out of game shape when you haven’t played in ten days or so“ said Shedden
It was desperation that brought Medveščak back into the game, said Thomas.
“The desperation“ said Thomas. We didn’t want to lose, especially down 4:0 like that. We didn’t want to lose, we wanted to keep working hard because it wasn’t Mark’s fault. The team was playing well, Murley had two nice shots and we’ve seen that from him last year that he’s capable of making those types of plays. We might have had a bit of a breakdown in the neutral zone on his second one. Because he’s the centremen, he came through and he’s able to get a lot of speed. That’s how he got a break down the wall. We stuck with it, it’s tough on Mark. I know nobody wants to see that happen, he’s a great goaltender, he played well for us so far this season. Heeter came in and closed the door for us, gave us a chance“
“Like you saw, we didn’t come out that strong and we had to fight us into the game again. We need to do whatever we can to win points. We came back pretty strong there in the second and third period. We can’t give up now, every point counts. We can’t just stop playing because we are last in the standings. We got to keep on fighting for 60 minutes and then see what happens“ said Hedberg
Bill Thomas and Mike Glumac scored two goals in 23 seconds to make it a 4:2 hockey game and captain Andrew Murray added his name on the scoresheet with a tally with 3:32 remaining in the second frame to make it 4:3. Medveščak had won the second period, and they were alright.
“The great goals by Glumac and Murray were two huge goals for us to get us within one goal to start the third period was a huge accomplishment“ said Thomas
Medveščak entered the third period down 4:3, but it only took 5:14 minutes in the final frame for Edwin Hedberg to tie the game at 4:4. He, too, proved to us yet again, why he is dubbed “Fast Eddy“.
“Yeah, he and Bjorkstrand played really well tonight“ said Thomas. “They’re great players to play with, they create a lot of speed. We had a lot of great opportunities together, and Edwin capitalised on a great play that Bjorkstrand tried passing into me, and Eddy was in the right place. You saw the skill that he has, to be able to beat the goaltender in tight like that. That was just a huge goal from a young kid, so it was great to see him in a very desperate situation for us to get that tying goal. It was really nice“
“It’s fun to play a lot, that’s what makes me better“ said Hedberg. “I get more into the game. We have a good line now, playing with Bill Thomas, he has a lot of experience. Me and Bjorki can learn a lot from him. I think that’s working out pretty well so far“
With 9:54 remaining, Martin St. Pierre found an open Pascal Pelletier who rocketed one past Jaroslav Janus to complete the comeback and put Medveščak ahead 5:4.
“It could have really put us in a hole, we could have quit. It was 4:0, we could have battled back, we got it 4:2 and saved faith. We stuck with it, which was really huge for us right now to show us that we have the character to accomplish, make the playoffs“ said Thomas
Cal Heeter replaced Owuya midway through the second period, and has since then shut all doors to keep Medveščak in the game. In the final ten minutes, he made his share of big saves and eventually lead Medveščak to a win.
“It’s funny how that works“ said Shedden. “I don’t know why it works that way but I didn’t think Mark was giving us the quality goaltending that we had to do. Not to blame everything on him, at that point you just make a change. Cal went in, did a good job and closed the door. That’s what you need. If you give up the fifth goal, you lose for sure. Not to think that our offensive prone is that we’re going to come back and score five to win with the way things have been going this year offensively“
“We’re happy to win“ said Thomas. “First thoughts are that we got out of that game with three points which probably kind of didn’t look like it half way through the game. The team persevered. We started out well, but giving up the four goals really let us down, but our team understands the magnitude of every game from here on out so we stuck with it and we were able to get the five unanswered goals. We’re really happy in there“
“At least we battled. Again, it’s a goofy game. We’re down 4:0, and that’s a great comeback. I hope it leads to something, momentum, in some way. You never know if this leads to something that gets you back in the playoff hunt and gets you excited about going to the rink again, all we can do is hope it does“ said Shedden
Blowing a 4:0 lead is a new page in Slovan’s book of problems, and their head coach, Petri Matikainen, made that clear.
“What a nightmare for both coaches. Today, Doug got the points. Thirty minutes we played with the system, we played simple. We have young boys in defence and survived, we got four goals.. We couldn’t handle it today. We started to make mistakes in the neutral zone, we gave momentum to Zagreb and couldn’t hang on today. Unbelievable. We were killing ourselves this way. We have problems enough in Bratislava with everything there, with the KHL future and money and everything. We’re still hanging here but we’re killing ourselves this way. I feel bad for the boys today. I know they’re trying to bust their balls, trying to survive here. These things are difficult to handle. When we come to the rink tomorrow, it will affect us, that’s for sure. That’s it, I have nothing more to say. The war continues and we’re trying to hang on. We’re hurt, a couple forwards got hurt today. We got four d-men at home and now Nedorost got hurt, Vondrka, too. I have to call the farm team and get boys from there“
In the end, the two lines that fought Medveščak back into the game and eventually lead them to a win were Murray’s line, with Glumac and Perkovich on the wings, and Thomas’ line, with Hedberg and Bjorkstrand winging.
One could only have words of praise for these players after the game. Rightfully so, as they were the best skaters out there Sunday night.
“Billy Thomas has kind of adopted that line. I was going to put Wright between those guys tonight, but Wright got sick. Billy proved that I should just leave this line alone, because all three can skate. Bjorki played a really strong game, Billy’s a smart enough guy in the middle. That line is fun to watch“
“Murray’s line was really good, all three of them. Perkovich was skating very well, Glumac was making a lot happen and Murray works hard every night. Unfortunately, our weakest line was the line I really thought I wanted to lead us, that was St. Pierre, Leino and Pelletier. They seem to be the one that struggled the most out of the four lines. McLean’s line with the two big wingers did a good job checking wise, even though they were on, I think, for the first two goals, but you certainly can’t blame them for that. We got to get Wright back in the lineup on Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see who’s not going to play“ said Shedden
“Everyone took charge, everyone played really well“ said Thomas. “We were the ones that benefited on the scoresheet, but when the game is over, we got our three points that we needed as a team, and for us that’s the goal that we’re trying to accomplish right now“
While this was a game for the books, coach Shedden has previously steered teams to great comebacks.
“I remember I was down 6:1, or 7:1 going into the third period and we won the game 8:7, I think that was the biggest one. That was back when I was coaching in Louisiana. Then another one in St. John’s. We were down 5:0 going into the third in Syracuse, and we beat them 6:5 in overtime“
After Sunday night’s game, Medveščak still holds the last place in the Western Conference with 49 points in 43 games, but has made up some ground. The Bears travel on Wednesday to the Moscow Oblast to play Atlant, a team in 11th place with five points more and one game less. HC Sochi currently sits in eight place with 60 points and 42 games. Playoffs are possible, but there is a large sense of urgency. And there has to be a large sense of urgency.
“It has to be. There’s 17 games left, we probably have to 12 to have a chance, and hopefully Sochi wins half of theirs. You got to like a story with a happy ending like tonight“ concluded Shedden