By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
VICTORIA, British Columbia – Never give a team life when you’ve got them by the throat.
The Victoria Salmon Kings didn’t.
The tension built by the minute until a goal by defenceman Matt Kelly (pictured) at 12:56 of overtime gave the Salmon Kings a 2-1 victory last night over the Idaho Steelheads. Victoria, the West Division third seed, won the best-of-seven opening-round ECHL Kelly Cup series 4-0 over the second-seed Steelheads.
“This is just awesome,” said Kelly.
“I just wanted to get the puck on the net and it went in for me. It’s not always the prettiest goals that win it. I’m glad we could put them away tonight. We knew their backs were to the wall and that they would be fighting to the end.”
Goaltender Matt Climie, with his club in a deep playoff hole, almost stole the game for the Steelheads.
Climie, who finished off the season by going 2-1 with the parent Dallas Stars, made some NHL-calibre saves to allow the Steelheads to get to overtime before 4,973 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
Victoria will meet the winner of the other West Division semifinal between the Alaska Aces, the regular-season division champions, and fourth-seed Utah Grizzlies. The Aces lead that series 3-1 heading into Saturday’s Game 5 at the E Center in Salt Lake City.
The pre-series favoured Steelheads fought grimly to stay alive while the Salmon Kings tried to put them away for good as the crowd was on the edge of its seat all night.
Darrell Hay’s power-play goal at 14:05 of the first period gave Idaho the lead, which stood until Adam Taylor put one into Idaho’s net at 8:23 of the third period after Climie’s stick slipped out of his hand.
The puck luck, which had generally run Victoria’s way in the series, starting going the other way as Victoria hit three posts and were stymied by Climie who took away what looked to be at least two sure goals.
Victoria held a 33-27 shot advantage after the third period, and had more quality scoring chances. Most of Idaho’s shots were from well out, including Hay’s power-play goal. The one exception was a hairy Idaho chance that was held out at the goal line by Victoria goalie Todd Ford.
“We were down by one goal in the third period but we stuck with it as we have done all series,” said Kelly.