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Elimination Looming: Spirited Saad Stings Sarnia

Game five is in the books and for the first time in three games a winner was declared without needing an overtime period.  Sarnia’s RBC Centre welcomed over 4,100 hockey fans Friday night eager to witness a hard fought battle between the fourth and fifth placed Western Conference teams.  The Sting and Spirit series has been an emotional rollercoaster as the teams struggle to find consistency in their game – particularly the Sarnia Sting. 
As the puck dropped to begin the first period, it took the Saginaw Spirit a mere fifty seconds to find the back of the net as defenseman Dalton Young fired the puck past netminder JP Anderson on the game’s first shot.  The opening jitters continued for the home team as Michael Fine added to the lead putting the Spirit up 2-0 before the game was three minutes old on assists from Strong and the man-beast Brandon Saad.  In the four previous game, Brandon Saad displayed why he started the 2011-12 NHL season as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks after being drafted 43rd overall in last year’s NHL Entry Draft.  The Spirit’s captain has been dominant through the first five games of this series often singlehandedly winning games.  Friday night’s game five was no different as Brandon Saad continued to steamroll the Sarnia Sting with Sarnia having no effective solution for stopping the 6’2” Pennsylvania native.  Sarnia’s Domenic Alberga was assigned the task of shadowing Saad but at the 15:35 mark of the opening frame Saad broke loose and burrowed past Sting defenseman Adrian Robertson before beating JP Anderson one-on-one to extend the Saginaw lead to three goals.  After two mediocre playoff attendance records in games one and three, the good showing of Sarnia fans for game five were left deflated after a lacklustre first period.
In much the same way as the first period, Saginaw jumped on Sarnia early in the second period and once again Dalton Young was the recipient of the first goal of the period as Spirit fans in attendance applauded their teams’ fourth goal.  Defenseman Steven Strong added his third assist of the contest on Young’s goal while Saad earned his second helper and third point.  Feeling the embarrassment of their team’s poor start, Sting captain Nathan Chiarlitti attempted to revive Sarnia by dropping the mitts with agitator Garret Ross giving the home team fans a reason to cheer.  The fight appeared to work as Sarnia had several key scoring chances on Spirit goaltender Jake Paterson but could not solve him.  Overage forward Brett Thompson eventually broke through as he sent a Rensfeldt rebound through the legs of Paterson to put the Sting on the board and head to the second intermission with a little hope.
The Sarnia Sting have been a good third period team all season long and it was certainly the best of the bunch on this night.  Alex Galchenyuk was very noticeable all game long as he continues to return to game shape improving in each game he plays.  Scouts and fans were treated to several dazzling individual rushes by Galchenyuk that left fans on their edge of their seats, however, Paterson robbed him of several goals on Friday night with his spectacular play. Galchenyuk’s work did not go unnoticed by coach Beaulieu as the big centre was often double shifted in the latter moments of the game as Sarnia came with a late surge. As the third period ticked away, Nickolas Latta, on a rare shift, was dumped at the Sting blue line by Saginaw’s Amestoy sending Sarnia to their fourth powerplay of the night. Sarnia capitalized fourteen seconds into the man advantage as Connor Murphy wrapped the puck around the boards to Ryan Spooner who creatively sent a pass out to Brett Thompson standing alone in front.  Thompson quickly sent the puck into the Spirit’s net for his second of the game pulling Sarnia within two goals.  As time the frame neared a close, the Sting played with desperation and grit - that has been absent from their game in this post-season - and came close to making it a one-goal game on several scoring chances.  In the end, Sarnia’s comeback was a little too late and with 1:06 minutes remaining Brandon Saad, fittingly, sent the puck into the empty net clinching game five for the Spirit. 
The series returns to Saginaw Saturday night in what becomes a do-or-die game six for the visiting Sarnia Sting.  Can the Sarnia Sting stop the freight train that is Brandon Saad?  Saad currently sits third in playoff scoring with six goals and 12 points in 5 playoff games and continues to be the best player on the ice, both offensively and defensive, for either team.  Can the Sarnia Sting play a more consistent game from puck drop to the final buzzer? The Sting have struggled mightily to play consistently over a three period stretch and it has been their Achilles heel through the first five playoff games.  Sarnia Sting fans are hoping that their team can build off their strong third period play on Friday night and earn a game six win in Saginaw forcing a game seven on Monday night.  Filled with loads of talent, Sarnia desperately needs to win for the diehard Sting fans excited to extend this season. More importantly, the Sarnia Sting players need to win for each other and pull together as a group to show the city, its fans and the entire Ontario Hockey League that their capable of playing better hockey. 
Was Friday night the last time Yakupov, Spooner, Thompson, Robertson and JP Anderson play on home ice?  The Sting certainly hope not.
Game Facts:
-        Brandon Saad finished with 2 goals, 2 assists and plus-4
-        Defensemen Dalton Young (2 goals) and Steven Strong (3 assists) factored in offensively in a big way tonight for Saginaw.
-        Brett Thompson, Nail Yakupov,
-        Powerplays:  Saginaw 0/4, Sarnia 1/5
-        Shots on Goal:  Saginaw 39, Sarnia 38
-        3 Stars: 1. Steven Strong (SAG), 2. Dalton Young (SAG), 3. Brett Thompson (SAR)

Game 6:  Sarnia @ Saginaw – Saturday, March 31st @ 7:11
Game 7: Saginaw @ Sarnia – Monday, April 2nd @ 7:00 *if necessary

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