BAIE VERTE, NL — The expansion Springdale Braves are on the brink of eliminating the two-time defending Central Newfoundland Senior Intermediate Hockey League champions.
The team continued its dominance over the Northeast Sabres last weekend, winning the first two playoff games of a three-out-of-five series on the road at the Tommy Ricketts Arena.
An 8-3 dismantling of the Sabres in front of their hometown fans Saturday set the tone for what is now six straight wins over the regular season champions out of Baie Verte.
The Sabres put forth a much better effort Sunday but still fell 3-2.
After securing the fourth and final playoff spot in the five-team league, the first-year Braves were confident playing the two-time defending champions based on a perfect 4-0 regular season record against them.
The record didn’t prove to be an anomaly on the opening weekend of the playoffs.
Trenton Johanson said his team likely played its best game of the season in Game 1. He felt they outplayed their opposition but also capitalized on their scoring chances.
Sunday’s game was a tighter contest, with the Sabres playing much harder than the night before, according to the captain. After a slow start, he believes they picked it up in the second half of the game and were thrilled to get the weekend sweep on the road.
“It was hard work by all hands and we got really good goaltending,” Johanson said. “We scored on our opportunities and limited their chances. It was a success all around.”
He also credited the team’s coaching staff for a solid game plan and quick in-game adjustments when needed.
Braves 3, Sabres 2 (Sunday)
Brandon Burt put the Braves ahead 3-2 with just over four minutes left in the game, and Wayne Clarke made sure it stood as the game winner in picking up his second win of the first round of the playoffs.
Johanson, who had scored five goals the night before, opened the scoring in Game 2. Linemates Ryan Cull and Burt, who dominated the first two games, picked up assists on the goal over nine minutes into the scoreless game.
The Sabres showed a champions’ fight in the second period. Ryan Parsons evened the game about two and a half minutes in, and Greg Edgar put them on top less than two minutes later.
Damien Simmons evened the score again before the period expired, setting up for a close finish in the second chippy game in a row.
Burt and Clarke made sure the Braves would head into this weekend with a 2-0 series lead.
Braves 8, Sabres 3 (Saturday)
Johanson scored on his first shift of the game, and it seemed like he didn’t go too many without one as he scored five times in the 8-3 Game 1 route.
The line of Johanson, Cull and Burt scored seven of the eight goals with Johanson’s line mates collecting one each. Jordan Snow added the other goal.
Springdale came into the game hungry. They opened up a 5-1 lead after the first and had a 6-2 lead after two periods.
Johanson credited his line mates for his personal accolades on the weekend.
“I just happened to be the guy who put the puck in the net,” he said. “I thought our line played exceptionally well Saturday night. Brandon (Burt) and Ryan (Cull) were flying and we were moving the puck well. It took all three of us to get the job done.”
The captain said the Braves can’t lose any focus with a 2-0 series lead. He said the same work ethic will be required to close out the series, as he expects a hungry team to show up in Springdale Saturday night.
Members of the Sabres did not return the Nor’wester’s request for comment prior to deadline.
Game 3 will be Saturday night at the Springdale Stadium, with Game 4 (if necessary) on Sunday.
The Twillingate Combines are up 2-0 over the Exploits Blades, winning 6-2 Saturday night and 6-4 Sunday.