HAMILTON – The Abbotsford Heat outhustled a lacklustre Hamilton Bulldogs team Thursday to earn a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the American Hockey League North Division finals.
David Van der Gulik, Gord Baldwin and Brett Sutter scored for the Heat, while Hamilton’s goals came from Aaron Pulashaj and Brock Trotter.
Ten minutes into the second period after a tight first that produced no scoring, Heat winger Van der Gulik tipped a slapshot by teammate Mark Mitera into the top of the net.
Pulashaj briefly tied the score three minutes later after shooting home a perfect pass from David Desharnais on a two-on-one. But 32 seconds later, Hamilton goalie Cedrick Desjardins was beat cleanly by a slapshot from defenceman Baldwin at the top of the faceoff circle.
“Mitch Wahl made a great play out to me,” said Baldwin. “I had a lot of ice. I just walked into it and shot it.”
Sutter added his third of the playoffs for the Heat 1:21 into the third period, tipping a rebound past Desjardins from the edge of the goal crease.
The Bulldogs recorded a late goal with 40 seconds left when Trotter tipped a Ryan White point shot through traffic past Heat goalie David Shantz, but it wasn’t enough.
Shantz, a Hamilton native who was heckled throughout the game by a group of teenagers sitting behind his net, earned the win for the Heat by stopping 30 shots.
“It’s pretty fun when fans do that,” said Shantz. “I love to hear that stuff. It usually does (provide motivation).”
Abbotsford, the most penalized team this season, gave up six power plays to Hamilton, while the Bulldogs went shorthanded just twice. But Hamilton struggled to create quality scoring chances and failed to score on any of their man-advantages.
“We blocked a lot of shots,” said Shantz. “(Hamilton) had a lot of traffic but they weren’t getting a lot of their shots through. We were getting in their lanes.”
Hamilton struggled to create quality scoring chances and at times left opponents wide open in scoring areas on defence.
Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher saw his team’s lacklustre performance coming.
“I told the players that’s what I was expecting,” he said. “I was expecting us, because we had a longer break, not to be in game mode and the other team, because they played their seventh game, to be in game mode. And they were in game mode and we weren’t.
“We worked hard tonight, and that’s not enough. Working hard is for losers?we need to be relentless.”
The Bulldogs had a goal waived off three minutes into the first period after Ryan White knocked the puck in with the side of his skate blade as he stopped in front of the net.
The Heat have now won four straight playoff games.
Game 2 is on Sunday afternoon in Hamilton.
A paltry crowd of 1,896 attended the game at Copps Coliseum, the second smallest crowd ever for a Bulldogs playoff game. The smallest crowd was on May 13, 2007, when 1,703 fans turned out to watch the Bulldogs play the Manitoba Moose in the North Division final.
Notes: The Bulldogs were missing P.K. Subban, Tom Pyatt and Ben Maxwell who were on call-up duty with the Montreal Canadiens. Mathieu Carle, Max Pacioretty, Eric Neilson and Yannick Weber also sat out with injuries.?Heat players Shawn Weller, Colin Stuart, Kris Chucko, Carsen Germyn, John Armstrong, John Negrin, Andy Delmore and Brett Palin did not dress due to injuries.?