OSWEGO, N.Y. — “We’ve had a few comebacks like that,” Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery said. “Never a comeback like that in the playoffs.”
Plattsburgh appeared dead and buried near the end of the second period. Oswego held a 3-0 lead and went on a two-man advantage power play. Then, in a stunning reversal, Plattsburgh killed that power play, and proceeded to score six unanswered goals, five in the third period with the game winner while shorthanded, to shock Oswego, 6-3, in the first game of the SUNYAC semifinals.
“The best lead in hockey is a three goal lead and when we got that first goal it took that Oswego lead away and it gave us believability,” Emery said. “That was a key goal for us.”
“Same thing when they were up three goals on us earlier in the year,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek said. “We can’t get in that comfort zone and get away from the things that gets you there. Our team got flat footed. Our forwards stopped working. In the first two periods we gave away very few odd man rushes. In the third period I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times we gave up two on ones and three on twos. That’s not going to win hockey games.”
“When they were up 3-0 they got a power play,” Emery said. “That was a huge kill for us. And then we went back on the power play right after that and scored. That was key.”
That key goal was scored 17 seconds after Plattsburgh got on the power play when Nick Rolls shot it low from the middle of the blueline, and it found its way in. It appeared to have changed direction from off the traffic in front as Ryan Scott had trouble picking it up.
Dave Friel scored five minutes into the third period during a four-on-four. His shot from the right side squeezed between the legs of Scott and barely trickled in. It was a poor goal to let in, and it seemed to affect Scott the remainder of the game.
Mike Thomson tied it just before the halfway mark of the period when Oswego was unable to clear the puck. It eventually found its way to the front of the net, and Thomson knocked it over the shoulder of Scott.
Then came the controversial call of the night which occurred on the winning goal.
Oswego was on the power play, but C.J. Tozzo broke out of his zone thanks to Oswego gambling trying to keep the puck in. Tozzo shot, and Scott appeared to have it. Then he fell back into his net. At first, no signal was given. After a discussion, the referee awarded the goal. Did the whistle blow before Scott fell into the net with the puck?
Gosek gave his viewpoint: “The only thing that I really looked at when he made the save and got the puck was the positioning of the linesman. He said he was on the line, and I’m watching him come in from the top of the face off circle. Yeah, it want in the net, but he held it there before he fell backwards into the crease.
“That’s not why we lost,” Gosek conceded. “We lost because we stopped working hard and didn’t play smart in the third period. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Less than two minutes later, Plattsburgh got an easy two-on-one. Ryan Busby passed it from right to left, and Deryk Whitehead simply one-timed it into the unguarded portion of the net.
Ben Kemp wrapped up the comeback with an empty netter.
“I think our guys believed in themselves even after the second period,” Emery said.
“We talked about it after the second period,” Gosek said. “The selfishness of some of our players on the power play, not coming back supporting the puck, not working hard, not making good decisions. I give Plattsburgh credit. The third period they wanted it more and our guys didn’t.”
The game started out all roses for Oswego. They got exactly what they wanted — power plays — and took advantage.
“I thought we had some good jump coming out of the locker room, but then it was taken away by those penalties,” Emery said.
Oswego’s first goal actually came just after a power play expired. Bryan Gent’s shot from the right point was stopped by Craig Neilson, but the rebound came out to his right. Matt Whitehead backhanded it in with a defender draped over him.
Rick Varone, who has come out of nowhere since the beginning of the month, shot through a crowd from the side to beat Neilson.
Varone got his second of the night in the second period using a burst of speed to break down the middle through the crowd. He received the puck from Garren Reisweber, made one move on Neilson, and easily beat him.
Oswego continued to apply pressure, and got three successive power plays with the latter two overlapping. However, Plattsburgh withstood the barrage as Oswego was never able to apply the kill shot, opening the door for Plattsburgh’s comeback.
Neilson wound up with 22 saves for the win while Scott had 26 saves.
The teams will have to put the emotional rollercoaster of tonight’s contest behind them before Saturday night’s second game of the two-game series. Oswego must win to force a mini-game.
“This is it,” Gosek said. “If they are not going to come out and put a better effort for three periods, be more consistent, and play as a team, we don’t deserve it.”
“We have to go out with business as usual,” Emery said. “All the first game means is that it guarantees you a third game. Oswego is a good team. They’re not done yet.”