They're a pair of teams that hadn't played each other at all during the regular season, but it was clear they had contrasting styles. Which one was going to prevail in a best-of-seven conference final series?
That remains to be seen, but score Round 1 to the fast team with the creative breakouts.
The young Lake Erie Monsters, having advanced further in the postseason than they ever have, used a strong second period to build a 3-1 lead, blew that lead in the first eight minutes of the third, saw Alex Broadhurst put them back ahead with his third goal of the playoffs, then held on at the end against a strong Reign team – and with a little help from the goal post.
Game 2 is tonight (Sunday) with a 10 p.m. Eastern faceoff.
Ontario was the #1 team in the AHL's Western Conference this season on the strength of tight defense and the goaltending of Peter Budaj. And for most of Game 1, that proved to be a frustrating combination for Lake Erie.
But the Monsters used their superior speed and overall jump to stun the hosts with three goals in one 2½-minute stretch of the second period. First it was a trailing Lukas Sedlak burying one from the slot to tie the game at 1. Then it was Josh Anderson doing the dirty work down and pounding a power-play rebound past Budaj. Then it was captain Ryan Craig alone at the far post to knock one in.
And suddenly the upstart visitors were ahead 3-1.
But Ontario used its other key strength – its devastatingly strong forecheck, which hasn't been talked about nearly as much as its defensive-zone play – to claw its way back into the game in the final frame. The Reign scored twice in those first eight minutes of the third, and suddenly it was shades of Game 4 of the Monsters' second-round series against Grand Rapids, when the Griffins came back from a 4-1 deficit and temporarily saved their season.
However, three things conspired to ensure that wouldn't be the case this time around:
(1) Broadhurst benefited from a fortunate bounce in front to put the Monsters back up 4-3 just 19 seconds after Ontario had tied it.
(2) Anton Forsberg, who was mostly solid in net for the Monsters, clamped down just enough to keep the hosts from coming back.
(3) Forsberg and his team also got some help from the right goal post on this sequence with under a minute to play. Whew.
So the good guys steal one on the road. If the Monsters hope to stretch their series lead to 2-0, they're going to have to skate and skate and skate until their legs melt beneath them. Lake Erie can win this series by winning loose pucks and leveraging its transition game. Jared Bednar and his staff know that, and you can be sure the Reign and their coaches know it, too. If the Monsters aren't willing to lay it on the line and find another gear every night, they're going to have a tough time against this solid Ontario squad. Simple as that.
Through one game, anyway, it seems they're willing to follow the formula.