Both the Burlington Cougars and the Mississauga Chargers had every reason to play tough, smart hockey on Saturday night.
With just 6 games remaining in the Cougars season they led the Chargers by just 2 points before their most recent tilt. Both teams played tough, but only Burlington played smart and came away with a 2-1 victory.
The Cougars led 1-0 with just a few minutes to go in the first period when the tone of the game changed dramatically.
Three consecutive, questionable hits to Cougar players along the boards, including one that left Captain Jeremy Gottzmann on the ice for few minutes, resulted in only one minor penalty for Mississauga.
Cougars Defenceman Adam Glynn recapped his coaches’ message to his team after the first period, “they told us to play between the whistles and not get drawn into anything.” Glynn responded by providing solid defensive play and jumping into the offensive zone to set up the game winning goal early in the third period.
Burlington did not stay out of the box entirely but they did very well not to let the game’s physicality affect their focus, even after another hit from behind that resulted in a major penalty and a game misconduct for a the Chargers. Mississauga ended the night with two players ejected and three major penalties.
“It says a lot about the character in this room,” said Gottzmann. “We were all upset about the hits... but in this kind of game, up by a goal, we wanted to keep our composure and not do anything stupid to get a penalty.”
Perhaps no player reflected calm and composure during the contest more than Goaltender Alex Murray who was nearly perfect on the night, allowing only one goal on 33 shots while making timely saves to keep the Cougars ahead of Mississauga in the race for the final playoff spot. Murray was equally relaxed after the game despite being involved in a scrum after the final whistle: “Everyone worked hard it was a team effort and a team win. There are no easy wins in this league anyone can be beaten by anyone so if we just play our game then we will be fine.”
Burlington will need to keep that attitude intact with a Monday night game against the last-place Hamilton Redwings coming up on Monday night, 7:30pm at the Dave Andreychuk Arena.
The Cougars continued an impressive penalty killing stretch on home ice but shutting out the Charger’s powerplay unit. In their last 4 home games, Burlington’s opponents have only converted on one of 22 opportunities with a man advantage (95.5%).
Cougars Forward Cooper Richards, armed with the end of a broken stick rather than a microphone, eagerly entered a media “scrum” after the game. He wasn’t afraid to ask line mate Jeremy Gottzmann the tough questions: “(after the hit from behind) how did you keep your composure out there for the rest of the game, how did you come back down to reality and keep it together for the boys?”
With 5 regular season games remaining for the Cougars, a game in hand over Mississauga and a 4 point lead for the 8th and final playoff spot, Burlington controls its own post-season destiny. Just 5 points will guarantee the Cougars a first-round playoff series.