Everything was going right for the Swift Current Broncos. The team was in total control of Game 6 against Moose Jaw and up 2-0 with 14 minutes to go before earning a trip to the WHL Eastern Conference Final. But the Moose Jaw Warriors weren't done. The Warriors erased the deficit and eventually won a triple-overtime marathon on a Jayden Halbgewachs power-play goal.
"It feels unreal, I mean, our season is over if that goal doesn't happen," Halbgewachs told Discover Moose Jaw "It's pretty indescribable. It feels awesome...we've got a special team this year and to have our season done already is not what we want and doesn't feel right... it's obviously the biggest goal of my career."
Swift Current seemed to control the pace of play from almost the drop of the puck. They outshot Moose Jaw 28-9 through the first two periods of play and just couldn't seem to find an answer for Warriors goaltender Brody Willms.
"I thought we came out with a good attitude, a good approach," said Broncos Associate Coach Ryan Smith. "We fired a lot of pucks on net. Willms was really good tonight and weathered the storm to give his team a chance to get back in it. Once you get into overtime and go that deep it can go any way. Unfortunately, you take a penalty and they score to take advantage of it."
Midway through the second period the Broncos finally broke through as Matteo Gennaro deflected in a hard pass from Artyom Minulin on the power play.
Swift Current then got what appeared to be the insurance they needed early in the third period as Glenn Gawdin won a battle in the corner to set Tyler Steenbergen up in the slot for his 9th of the playoffs. The Broncos seemed close to a series victory having not given up a multi-goal lead yet in the playoffs. That's when the Warriors seemed to wake up.
Coming off a Swift Current icing and time out, Brett Howden won a clean draw to set up Jett Woo's 2nd of the playoffs from the point through traffic for Moose Jaw's first goal in nine periods. The Warriors kept coming and tied the game on a strange play.
Kale Clague shot the puck from the slot and had it deflect off Howden's arm. At that same time, the net behind Stuart Skinner got pushed up and the puck flew from the top of the net and through the goal before it dropped back on the moorings. After a review of the play the goal counted as the net never got fully dislodged and the Warriors had suddenly tied the game. Swift Current recovered from that disappointment to put on some good late pressure in the third and carry the better of the play in the first overtime.
It was a more even second overtime period as both teams had their share of opportunities while battling hard to protect their net from all the skill on the ice.
Early in the third overtime, the Broncos turned the puck over in their own zone and Minulin was forced to take a hooking penalty on a wide-open Halbgewachs chance. That opened the door for a Moose Jaw power play that hadn't scored since Game 3 to save their season with the winning goal.
"We had some good opportunities in overtime and they did as well," Smith noted. "Once you get into the sixth period of the game it's going to take a break here or there, a bounce and again like I said we get shorthanded and weren't able to kill that off. That was the difference."
Willms was the star of the game for Moose Jaw making 58 saves on 60 Swift Current shots as the Warriors had their backs against the wall.
"He stood on his head," Halbgewachs said. "In the end, he gave us the win. He was phenomenal tonight and that's what we need from him going forward."
The Warriors also had forward Tanner Jeannot back in their lineup after his missed Game 5.
Stuart Skinner was again strong for the Broncos with 35 saves.
Now Swift Current has to regroup from the heartbreak of that loss as they now face a do-or-die game in Moose Jaw on Monday.
"We feel we can always improve," Smith said. "But it comes down to Game 7. Everybody's got to be their best that night. We want to have the same kind of start, we want to keep pressuring their D and their goalie and see if we can put a few more past them. It should be a tight game... it will be for lack of a better term an epic game. It's two of the better teams in the league going right down to the wire. Maybe it should be like this. Too bad we couldn't come up with a win tonight."
One thing that could serve as a potential boost for the Broncos is that the road team has thrived in playoff games between the two teams. The visiting club won 5 out of 7 games in last season's first-round series between the two and 4 out of 6 games this season.
Last spring's series also proved to the Broncos they could win a Game 7 in Moose Jaw after dropping a Game 6 at home. Now the Broncos want a repeat and Moose Jaw seeks redemption with a conference final series against Lethbridge set for the winner.