By Matthew Gourlie
Stuart Skinner loves playing at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.
He does hope, however, that he won’t have to play there again this season.
Fresh off of a Game 2 shutout in his last trip to Moose Jaw, the Swift Current Broncos goalie made 36 saves in the Broncos’ 2-0 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors Friday to take a 3-2 series lead back home to the Credit Union i-Plex for Game 6 Saturday.
“It’s a tough building to play in, but the Swift Current Broncos fans that came out were incredibly loud,” said Skinner who was serenaded with chants of his name and M-V-P during his post-game interview by a big throng of travelling fans. “The fans were incredible. A lot of credit goes out to them for giving us momentum and energy as well.
“When we win in this barn, it almost feels like our home rink with how loud it gets here. It’s a fantastic barn to play in and I have a lot of fun playing here.”
The Broncos leaned heavily on Skinner and their penalty kill in the opening nine minutes. Game 4 hero Matteo Gennaro took an interference penalty 34 seconds into the game for the visitors. The Warriors managed five shots and Brayden Burke hit the post, but failed to score.
The Broncos took that some early momentum from that penalty kill and Kaden Elder deflected a Josh Anderson point shot at 3:53 to open the scoring.
Less than a minute later Broncos defenceman Colby Sissons took a double-minor after clipping Burke with a high stick. Anderson cleared a loose puck from behind Skinner and Warriors defenceman Dmitri Zaitsev hit the crossbar, but still the Warriors power-play wasn’t able to connect.
“I thought we were the better team tonight. We hit four or five posts or something. If one of those goes in on one of those early power plays, it could be a different game,” Burke said. “Our power play has to be better. We can’t be wasting opportunities like we have in the last two games. That’s why we’re down in the series right now.
“We have to be better. We know what it takes in that room, but it’s frustrating right now.”
The Warriors have failed to score on their last 10 power play chances dating back to Game 3. They were 0-for-4 Friday after going 0-for-5 in Game 4 including squandering a power play in overtime.
“These are tight games and we have to find a way to will the puck behind the goalie and we’re just not getting there yet. We have goal-scorers in that room. They have to step up and do their job. Goal-scoring in the playoffs is not easy, but we have to find a way to dig in and score a couple of goals here,” said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter. “We have to get our nose to our toes and keep our head down around the front of the net and dig in and finish the deal. And we’re not. We’re not getting enough guys inside. They compact everyone down around home plate and we’re not getting inside. We’re going to have to do that (Saturday) in Swift Current. It’s the exact same scenario as last year. We’re going to Swift Current. We have to win. We won last year. We’ll win (Saturday) and bring it back here for Game 7.”
Skinner was lights out in the Broncos’ double-overtime win when he made 51 saves and he and the Broncos parlayed that momentum into Game 5 as he posted his third shutout of the post-season.
“I thought last game we got better as the game went on and we got more hungry as the game went on,” Skinner said. “That definitely carried over to tonight. We went through a little pressure in the beginning. We were on our heels a bit in the first 10 minutes. The way we killed those penalties built momentum and I thought it was a good character win.”
Skinner’s shutout streak is 10 seconds shy of hitting 120 minutes — two full games — after the Broncos’ double-overtime win in Game 4.
Tyler Steenbergen found a trailing Giorgio Estephan on a three-on-one break and he doubled the Broncos lead midway through the third period.
The Broncos welcomed Steenbergen back after he missed almost all of Game 4 after being hit by a point shot. Moose Jaw’s overage winger Tanner Jeannot left Game 4 in the second overtime and didn’t play Friday.
Hunter primarily deployed defenceman Josh Brook in Jeannot’s spot on the right wing with Brett Howden and Jayden Halbgewachs.
The Warriors dressed eight defencemen, inserting Daemon Hunt and Matthew Benson into the lineup instead of playing second-year forward Brecon Wood or rookie Tyler Smithies who were healthy scratched.
Benson’s only shift came as a forward, while fellow defencemen Oleg Sosunov, Kale Clague and Jett Woo each saw the odd shift on the wing while also playing defence.
“We dressed eight defencemen because it gave us our best chance to win,” Hunter said. “We have Tyler Smithies and Brecon Wood… these games are hard. I don’t expect those guys to step in and really contribute in these games. That’s why we went with the defencemen so I could play an older player up front that has a little more grit and who has a little more of an idea how to play.
“We only have one right-shot forward and that’s Vinny Loschiavo, that’s why I used (right-shot defencemen) Brook and Woo. That’s the reason behind that, it’s not to try to get things going.
“If I do ever juggle lines it’s to try to get the right combinations and a gut feeling for people who are into the game and who are competing hard and who deserve it. In the playoffs you don’t have time to just wait for guys to find their game because they played with somebody all season long. They need to perform and they need to be ready to perform and that’s how you work as a coach.”
Brody Willms made 22 saves in goal for the Warriors.
Friday was the first time the Broncos have won two straight games this post-season.
“It feels great to win two in a row — especially in their barn,” Skinner said. “Being able to go back home and finish it off is huge, but at the same time… every game is different. We know they’re going to come out hard, so we’re going to prepare and make sure we come out even harder.”