By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
A general sentiment going into the Victoria Salmon Kings-Idaho Steelheads Kelly Cup playoff series was that Idaho goalie Matt Climie, who concluded the regular season in the NHL with the parent Dallas Stars, was capable of stealing games.
But it was Todd Ford of Victoria who actually did the stealing on Sunday.
Ford was brilliant in blocking a barrage of more than 50 shots in recording the shutout in Boise as the Salmon Kings blanked the Steelheads 2-0 to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round series. The frustrated Steelies, the West Division second seed, outshot the third-seed Salmon Kings 51-22 with nothing to show for it.
“One of the reasons Manitoba signed Todd [to an AHL contract] was because of how he’s performed in the playoffs in the past,” said Salmon Kings GM and head coach Mark Morrison.
“He has a history behind him in playoffs. And he’s been real good to start this series.”
Part of that history includes carrying the Swift Current Broncos to the 2002 WHL Eastern Conference final in junior before losing to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Red Deer Rebels. Last year, Ford backstopped the Columbia Inferno to the third round of the Kelly Cup playoffs in the ECHL American Conference.
“Everybody knows it is the playoffs and you get up for that . . . it’s a great time to be playing hockey and I love this time of year,” said Ford, a third round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002.
“You know if you’re losing games now, you’re going to be going home. The competition becomes so much keener. I’m feeling good and I’m seeing the pucks and they are hitting me. Our defence played great. And the forwards came back and checked.”
That was evident late in the third period when Victoria forward Sean O’Connor slapped away a puck that could have been the tying goal for Idaho.
“I kicked it out but unfortunately it went right back in the slot and Sean was there to steer it away . . . all the guys are doing the little things,” said Ford.
A goal by Olivier Labelle, his second in as many games, at 8:08 of the first period, proved the winner as several of the Salmon Kings seem to have recovered their form from earlier in the season when the club was going well.
Adam Taylor scored into an empty net with two seconds remaining.
Sunday’s win, which followed the 3-1 victory Saturday in Game 1, were Victoria’s first wins in Boise after dropping all three regular-season games there late in the regular season.
Idaho went 44-24-4 in placing second in the West Division of the National Conference. Victoria, affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, was third at 38-27-7.
“We’ve gotten back to what we had a couple of months ago. There are no passengers,” said Victoria forward Darryl Lloyd.
“The guys are showing up. Everybody has a role on this team and everybody is doing theirs. And what can you say about Todd? If it wasn’t for Todd, I don’t know how this series would stand right now. He helped us for sure. And the skaters are helping by clearing out pucks in the defensive zone.”
Idaho’s explosiveness was evident in its 51 shots Sunday and the Salmon Kings know nothing will be easy as the series swings into Victoria for the third and fourth games Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m. at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The fifth game, if needed, will be at the Memorial Centre on Saturday. The sixth and seventh games, if required, are in Boise.
“We’re a long way from over,” warned Lloyd.
Tight and controlled is how Morrison approached the series and so far it has paid off.
“The guys played with a lot of desire,” said the Salmon Kings coach and GM. “They stayed with it. Despite the shots advantage for Idaho overall, we out-chanced them in the first period. An early whistle cost us a goal that would have made it 2-0 in the first.”
Despite being up in the series, Morrison talked about maintaining a sense of desperation hockey.
“Our guys played with desperation because that’s the way you must play in the playoffs,” he said.
“We started with a lot of jump and went after them. We’re playing desperate. They beat us during the regular season. In our minds we know we are better than we showed against them in the regular season. And obviously, Todd was the difference tonight.”
A key to the series was that Victoria’s tenacious style needed to become evident early if the Salmon Kings were to stand a chance against the favoured Steelheads, who have flashier forwards.
“We’re doing the little things, especially in front of Fordo,” said Victoria forward Chris St. Jacques.
“At the other end, we’re crashing the net. We’ve got to keep those little things going and forechek the Steelheads and keep pressure on them. And, of course, Fordo has stood on his head.”