It wasn’t all bad for the Coulee Region Chill. It was actually quite promising.
With the Midwest Division’s fourth and final seed in hand, the Chill pushed top-seeded Janesville to the brink in both of last weekend’s playoff games at Janesville Ice Arena. The Chill and Jets were deadlocked for all but 2 minutes, 55 seconds of combined third-period action (40 minutes), while a Matt Doran equalizer — scored in the final five minutes of regulation — induced Saturday’s double-overtime marathon.
“Those two games were arguably the best two games we’ve played all year,” Coulee Region forward Joey Sofo said.
If only that mattered.
Unfortunately for the Chill, it didn’t show on the scoreboard, and now they’re in a hole. In today’s Game 3 — set for 7 p.m. at Green Island Ice Arena — it’s win or go home.
“We’re playing with our backs against the wall,” Chill forward Caleb Schroer said. “It’s going to be do or die every night.”
The Chill enter this weekend on the brink of yet another first-round elimination — what would be their fourth in the last six years — as they trail Janesville 2-0 in the Midwest Division semifinals, a best-of-five series.
To extend their season beyond the first round, the Chill need to win both of their home games this weekend. If they do that, they’ll need another victory at Janesville in a winner-take-all Game 5 on Monday to advance to the division finals.
Those are big ifs.
The Jets won 42 of their 60 regular-season games this year — good for third-most in the NAHL — and as a result, they lost two or more consecutive games just four times all season. They lost three straight only once, a stretch of three one-goal defeats capped on March 23, when the Chill collected their only shutout of the season with a 1-0 victory in Janesville.
For the Chill to win their first playoff series in seven years, they’ll have to dish out Janesville’s second three-game skid of the month.
“They’re a good club. I don’t want to take anything away from them. They’re a good club,” Coulee Region coach Ryan Egan said. “They found that consistency in the regular season, where we had some peaks and valleys in our game and we struggled to keep pucks out of our net.”
The Chill allowed six combined goals over the weekend, two of which were particularly costly — and unlucky — for Coulee Region.
Inside the final three minutes of the third period Friday night, Janesville’s Frank Sullivan was gifted a game-winning goal in the waning moments of regulation, as his shot from the point deflected off the outstretched leg of a Chill defender — who was attempting to block the shot — before finding the back of the net.
Then, on Saturday, Schroer was tagged with what Egan called a “questionable” tripping penalty at 8:14 of the second overtime period, which led to the Jets’ power-play winner less than two minutes later. Coulee Region had already killed off six other penalties up to that point, a respectable accomplishment against the Jets’ league-best power play.
If those kinds of breaks had gone the Chill’s way, they could just as easily be up 2-0 in the series, Egan said.
“I just feel like in any sport at a high level, it’s just harder on the road,” Egan said. “I’m hoping that being at home gives us that slight advantage. I thought Janesville had that slight advantage of being at home last weekend. Any time an official is in your building, things sometimes go your way a little bit from time to time. We’re hoping that all those little things will now go our way in our own building.”
“We just need to score more goals. You can’t win a game scoring two goals when they get 70 shots,” Sofo said of the Chill, who allowed 70 attempts on their net during Saturday’s double-overtime defeat.
“We’re going to have to find a way to finish. Hopefully our power play clicks. I think our top two lines need to find the back of the net.”