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Game 1 Recap: Saginaw Spirit 5 @ Sarnia Sting 1

 Written By:  Brendan Ross
The Saginaw Spirit and their fans arrived in Sarnia on a warm beautiful afternoon and were ready for the puck drop.  Sarnia was playing in their first playoff game in almost three years and there were plenty of scouts and NHL brass in attendance to catch Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk playing together for the first time this season.  The Toronto Maple Leafs’ General Manager Brian Burke made the trip to Sarnia and Scott Howson of the Columbus Blue Jackets was spotted once again at the RBC Centre.  The Sarnia Sting had eight skaters playing in their first career OHL playoff game including Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Reid Boucher, Ludvig Rensfeldt, Craig Hottot, Nick Latta, Connor Murphy, and Anthony DeAngelo.  Scratched for the Sarnia Sting in game one was Justice Dundas and defenseman Jack Kuzmyk while Saginaw had Grant Webermin, Sam Povorozniouk and Vadim Khlopotov sitting out.

Metcalfe Photography

The first period was a series of back and forth rushes and both teams showed a bit of tentativeness in their game.  Alex Galchenyuk was sent out with Nail Yakupov and Bruins’ prospect Ryan Spooner forming a very dynamic offensive line for the scouts to watch.  At the 18:27 minute mark of the first period, Saginaw rookie Nick Moutrey took a checking to the head penalty that would send Sarnia to their third powerplay of the opening frame.  Coach Beaulieu called on Yakupov, Galchenyuk, and Brett Thompson up-front to start the powerplay while Connor Murphy and forward Ryan Spooner manned the points.   Fifty-seconds into the powerplay Alex Galchenyuk, while on his knees to the right of the Saginaw net, picked the puck up and fired it over goaltender Jake Paterson to give the Sting a 1-0 lead.  The goal would be Alex Galchenyuk’s first of the season and also his first career playoff goal and point.  Nail Yakupov picked up his first career playoff assist on the Galchenyuk goal and overager Brett Thompson grabbed the other assist.  Sarnia fans went into a frenzy upon hearing that Galchenyuk scored his long-awaited first goal and the vibe in the RBC Centre was positive going into the first period intermission.
Neither Yakupov or Galchenyuk looked to be suffering from their recent injuries as both were skating well and were actively engaging themselves in the play.  It appeared that Sarnia is being cautious with Galchenyuk's recent shoulder injury as they had Yakupov taking faceoffs in place of him for most of the game.
Unfortunately, as the puck dropped for the second period Sarnia fans witnessed what has become somewhat common for the Sting this year as the team struggled in the second period.  Saginaw stepped onto the ice in the second period with an extra jump in their stride and within the first seven minutes they were able to tally two goals by Chicago Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad and small centreman Carlos Amestoy giving the Spirit a 2-1 lead.  Brandon Saad continued to buzz around the ice displaying his size and strength and eventually fought his way to the front of the net where he batted a high rebound past Sting netminder JP Anderson.  The official on the play waved off the goal indicating Saad scored on with a highstick. Upon a lengthy review, officials deemed Saad’s goal legal sending Saginaw up 3-1 on Sarnia halfway through the game.  The reviewed goal appeared to be the turning point of the game as Saginaw dominated the Sarnia Sting in the second period who appeared to be playing timidly.  Brandon Archibald fired a point shot past Anderson at the 19:44 mark of the second period on the powerplay knocking the life out of Sarnia. 
Sarnia’s passive game continued in the third period as Saginaw added another goal at the 1:53 mark of the third period as Garrett Ross jumped into the slot and fired home a pass from Florida Panthers’ prospect Vincent Trocheck.  The last Ross goal was a good display of how Saginaw was successful in game one as the Spirit dominated the play in both the offensive and defensive slots.  Throughout the game, Saginaw relentlessly entered the slot and created a lot of scoring chances in that area.  At the other end of the rink, Saginaw’s success revolved around keeping Sarnia out of the scoring area in the slot forcing them to play a perimeter game.
The game wrapped up with a few misconducts handed out to both teams as the officials did a good job at some housecleaning to prevent chaos in the final few minutes.   As the horn sounded to end the third period, most of the 3,214 fans in attendance for game one had already filed out.  Despite being void of the playoffs for the past few seasons, Sarnia fans failed to draw a sold out crowd which was slightly disappointing especially given that the team has finally returned to full health.
Brandon Saad earned first star honours with his strong game as he chipped in two goals for the visiting Spirit.  Saginaw forwards Carlos Amestoy (1 goal and 1 assist) and Josh Shalla (2 assists) earned second and third stars, respectively.  Jake Paterson had a strong game stopping 26 of 27 Sting shots in his first career OHL game.  Playing in his first OHL Playoff Game since leading the Mississauga Majors to the Memorial Cup last season, JP Anderson finished the game with 28 saves on 33 Spirit shots.
Sarnia travels to Saginaw Saturday night (March 24th) for Game 2 in a 7:11pm puck drop.  The Sting are hoping to end their three game winless drought versus the Spirit in which the team has been outscored 18-4.  Sarnia has a fan bus headed to the game and is hoping to energize the team with their black and yellow attire.  Now that the playoff jitters are gone look for Sarnia to bring a revitalized game to Saginaw’s Dow Event Centre in hopes of returning home with a big win.
Saginaw 5, Sarnia 1
Saginaw leads series 1-0

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