Tillsonburg Thunder carved out another win Monday night to take a 3-0 lead in the WOAA South Division senior men's hockey best-of-seven semifinals against the Clinton Radars.
Shots on goal were even through two periods at the Kinsmen Memorial Arena. Both teams scored once in the first two periods sending them into final 20-minute frame deadlocked at 2-2. Mike Findlater notched the game-winner with 11:31 left to play banging home a rebound, short-side. Chad Barclay sealed it with an empty-netter with 1:06 remaining to make it 4-2.
It's the been the same story all series – Tillsonburg won the opener 3-2 in double overtime, then won 3-2 in Clinton Friday night despite being outshot (50-25).
"It's a close series, it's all back-and-forth," said Tillsonburg coach Brad Wilkins, who had guided the Thunder to the top of the South Division regular season with an 18-5-1 record. "It was a good quick game, lots of chances on both sides.
"It's a coin toss at this point right now. But I think at the end of the day we've deserved the wins that we've had. (Goalie Jeff) Bassindale's played outstanding in the last two games, for sure. He made the saves at the right time that we needed him to make. (Cody) Vinnai played the first game and he played fantastic, too. Goaltending's been the strong suit, which was kind of the question mark going into the playoffs because we weren't sure what kind of goaltending we were going to get, just because throughout the year the commitment level of everybody has been up in the air.
"When you get that kind of goaltending, it just makes life a lot easier."
Only five points had separated fourth-place Clinton (15-7-2) from the division leaders. Tillsonburg won three of four regular season games including a 6-3 decision on Dec. 27, their last meeting before playoffs.
"I wouldn't say it's been an easy three games," said Wilkins. "Overall I think the guys are playing well. We're starting to see the guys gel now, which is nice."
Two of their deadline signings have made a mark – Mark Landon, a fourth-liner who bangs and crashes, and Shawn Crowley, a stay-at-home defenceman who has proven a valuable commodity on a team heavy on offensive-minded blueliners.
If there was a series turning point, said Wilkins, it was Game 2 when Clinton outshot Tillsonburg by a 2-1 margin.
"I think it deflated them a little bit when they outshot us that much. When you walk away with a loss, it's probably tough to swallow. But they battled tonight – it was a back-and-forth game.
"They also had 13 power plays to our eight (Friday). That can really change the momentum of a game."
The South Division semifinals continue Friday, Feb. 20, in Clinton, returning to Tillsonburg for Game 5 if necessary on Saturday, Feb. 21 (7:30 p.m.)
Monday's game was rescheduled from the 14th due to weather in the Clinton area Saturday.
Tillsonburg 3, Clinton 2
11:01 Tillsonburg, Mark Landon (Josh Van Dyk)
6:05 Tillsonburg PP, Josh Van Dyk (Ryan Stephenson, Ryan Fletcher)
3:14 Tillsonburg, Mark Landon (Shane Balcomb, Ryan Fletcher)
Tillsonburg 4, Clinton 2
4:10 Tillsonburg PP, Nathan Peacock (Josh Van Dyk, Brad Streib)
1:58 Clinton PP
18:01 Clinton PP
12:30 Tillsonburg, Adam Wallace (Chad Barclay, Shane Balcomb)
11:31 Tillsonburg, Mike Findlater (Ryan Stephenson, Tony Rizzi)
1:06 Tillsonburg EN, Chad Barclay (Brad Martin, Ryan Fletcher)