What a Game 3 it was between the Diamond Energy Female Midget AAA Wildcats and Battlefords Sharks Sunday afternoon at Fairview West.
After wins of 6-2 and 6-1, the Wildcats were looking for the sweep in their best-of-five series and got just that, though in a nail-biting 2-1 OT victory.
Taylor Lind scored the game's first goal 40 seconds into the second period on a 5-on-3.
That goal stood as the lone strike for nearly the entirety of regulation, before Sharks forward Ensley Fendelet lifted one upstairs with 2:18 remaining in the third period to force OT.
That late goal briefly breathed life back into the Sharks, who were able to use sudden-death OT to keep their season alive and try to force Game 4.
However, a potent Wildcats powerplay got their seventh opportunity of the game in overtime. Needing just 53 seconds of time on the man-advantage, the Wildcats chipped home the game and series-winning goal.
Baylee Kirwan played the role of overtime hero in the Game 3 victory.
"Well gotta thank Terry for keeping me on the ice, I was definitely wanting to get off," said Kirwan with a smile post-game. "I was on there for three minutes before that goal."
"I'm on the powerplay in front of the net - I knew the play - Sara had the puck, I tried to slide low back door. Got the rebound, and it was just getting all in there. I was so tired, I just wanted to be done."
It was fitting that a bit of a gritty goal was the game-winner, as Sharks netminder Haylie Biever stood on her head to keep her team in the game. Biever made 37 saves in a game the Wildcats out-shot Battlefords 39-21.
"Yeah it was hard not being able to bury, especially with a 6-1 win and a 6-2 win," said Kirwan. "(Biever) was hot tonight, so I guess a garbage goal's all that's going to go in."
Head coach Terry Pavely noted pregame that series-clinching games are the hardest to win, and that proved to be the case. He said that this result was a balance between a tough Battlefords effort, as well as more penalty troubles for his team.
"We had moments where we were really good, again we out-shot them pretty handily, but again discipline is our issue. At this time of year we cannot take those penalties," Pavely explained. "That's something we definitely need to tighten up. We knew it was going to be hard and I give Battlefords a ton of credit, they really competed hard start to finish."
The Wildcats racked up 20 minor penalties over the three-game series, though a swarming penalty-kill held Battlefords to just two goals on the man-advantage.
At the other end, what a series it was for Swift Current's powerplay, going a blistering 7-for-15, adding a penalty-shot goal as well.
"Our powerplay's been really good, and if your powerplay's really good, we want to be on the powerplay more than we're on the penalty-kill," said Pavely. "It's pretty fitting in this series that our powerplay scores the winning goal."
Meanwhile, Harper Davey earned her first start in net of the series, posting a 20-save performance en route to the biggest W of the Wildcats series.
After those one-sided victories in the first two games, it was the first glimpse of a prototypical playoff-like tilt for the Wildcats - a style of win they'll have to get used to, if they plan on getting past the Regina Rebels in Round 2 to reach the league finals.
"I think probably the best thing about it is hopefully we learned this is how every game's going to be moving forward," said Pavely. "Every game is going to be like that, so we are not going to get a break. We can use (Game 3) and say we find a way to win those close games, even if we gave up a late goal, we found a way to respond. It's a learning tool that hopefully we can use to help build some confidence moving forward."
The third-seeded Wildcats take on a second-seeded Rebels team that swept the Melville Prairie Fire with wins of 5-0, 5-1, and 4-1.
"It's going to be a grind, they've got a real good defensive core, they don't give up a lot of goals, so we're going to have to be patient," the Wildcats bench boss explained. "We want to wear them down, and if we play the right way and we cycle pucks, we have a chance to wear teams down."
"It's going to be a game where we're going to have to gut it out for 60 minutes. It's probably going to have to come down to either way a lot of games where maybe a goal in the third period by either team will be the game-winner."
We'll have a series preview ahead of Round 2, once dates are scheduled.