CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Lukas Sedlak scored 6:25 into double overtime to pull out a 2-1 Game Four thriller over the defending champion Ontario Reign, sending the Lake Erie Monsters to their first-ever Calder Cup Finals.
It was Sedlak's second goal of the night and his fourth of the Western Conference Finals, as he banged home the rebound from a Josh Anderson drive. Anderson had wheeled around Justin Auger and Andrew Crescenzi from the left corner to top of the circles.
"I don't know if it hit me, if it hit Budes," said Captain Vincent LoVerde, who opted to front Anderson's bid instead of tying up Sedlak. "It's a dirty goal that's going to be scored in overtime."
For Ontario, it was a particularly bittersweet loss because they had owned play from the third period on, exemplified by a 14-5 even strength scoring chances edge in that time frame. And just the shift before the Sedlak winner, Michael Mersch had Anton Forsberg dead to rights, only to see the netminder make "the save of his life," according to Lake Erie play-by-play announcer Tony Brown:
Mersch was "heartbroken" but was quick to compliment Forsberg, who had all 23 of the his shots, many Grade-A opportunities, in just four games. "I just couldn't beat the goalie all series.
"No holes low at all. He had a really good glove. I shot glove a few times."
All the Reign had to show for their dominance on both sides of the puck tonight was a fluke early third period goal by Joel Lowry, who capitalized on a Forsberg stickhandling gaffe. It was pretty much the Swede's only mistake in a 41-save masterpiece:
Lowry's luck boosted Ontario's spirits, which could have flagged after Sedlak's first period strike, which was an all-to-typical-of-this-series who's got who letdown:
However, the prohibitive series favorites held their heads high tonight. After less-than-complete efforts in the first three contests of this series, they finally authored a game to be proud of.
"We played exactly how we wanted to play," said Nic Dowd. Head Coach Mike Stothers echoed the sentiment. "Our best game was the last game."
It was also a bounceback for Peter Budaj, who was perhaps bearing too much of the burden of a 3-0 series deficit on his shoulders. The Bastien Award winner was MVP-caliber, making 29 stops, none better than this:
Stothers, as he often does, focused on the big picture with a "glass half full" mentality, "Looking forward to next year. Somebody’s going to have our hardware and we want it back."
That somebody might be the Monsters, who will be watching the Hershey Bears try for an upset sweep of the Toronto Marlies in the Eastern Conference Finals tonight.