The Windsor Spitfires did not lose perspective on the big picture.
While the top team in the Western Conference was hoping to ride into the playoffs on a 15-game winning streak, a virus and the need for some much-needed rest for some players put an end to those thoughts.
The winning streak ended on Friday in an overtime loss in Erie and the Windsor suffered its first regulation loss in 15 games on Saturday in a meaningless match in Guelph to cap off the regular season. The host Storm team won 5-2 before a crowd of 4,614 at the Sleeman Centre.
“We had some guys that were run down and needing rest,” Spitfires’ defenseman Nathan Ribau said. “It would have been nice to keep the streak going, but clinching first in the west was big for us and we’re just trying to prepare for the playoffs. We are ready for the next challenge for sure.”
It took until Sunday for Windsor’s first-round opponent to finally be decided. Erie’s loss at home to Hamilton opened the door for the Sarnia Sting to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Game 1 of that best-of-seven series goes Thursday at the WFCU Center at 7:05 pm
“We weren’t disappointed,” Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard of two losses to end the season. “(Lesser used) guys got some ice time and we escaped any injuries and we’re ready to go.”
Captain Will Cuylle, Ryan Abraham, Louka Henault, Pasquale Zito and Matt Onuska all sat Saturday’s finale.
Onuska appeared to injure an arm and was forced out of Friday’s game, Henault was battling a non-COVID illness and Zito has missed six games with an upper-body injury. Cuylle and Abraham were rested.
“The good news is what happened (to Onuska) has happened before,” said Savard, who did not reveal the injury. “A couple of days rest and hopefully he’ll be back at practice on Tuesday or Wednesday. I’ve got Zito penciled in for Thursday.”
With his team outshot 44-24, goalie Xavier Medina was solid in Saturday’s loss stopping 39-of-43 shots with Guelph getting an empty-net goal.
“X (Medina) was fantastic, even though we lost,” said Savard, who gave players Monday off while he and his coaching staff returned to the office to study film. “We’re confident with either guy.”
Alex Christopoulos, with his 13th goal in 47 games since joining the Spitfires, and Wyatt Johnston had the Windsor goals.
It was Johnston’s 46th goal of the season, which is the most by a Spitfire since Steve Ott scored 50 in 2000-01.
Johnston also became the first Spitfire since Peter Sarno in 1997-98 to capture the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the league’s top scorer.
“It’s definitely pretty cool to see that,” said Johnston, who had 42 multi-point games this season. “It’s pretty cool to accomplish that.”
Johnston’s 46th goal on the season gave him 124 points, which pushed him a point past Bill Bowler (1993-94) and Gerry Leroux (1977-78) for the fifth-highest point total in a season in franchise history. It was also the most by a league player since 2016-17.
“Incredible season,” said Savard, who won league scoring titles in 1994-95 and 1996-97 with the Oshawa Generals. “You have to contribute every night, so I know where he’s coming from. He didn’t take any nights off and went on a lot of long point streaks.”
But while the regular season had plenty of highlights for the Spitfires, who topped the league with 305 goals and the team’s first division and conference title in 2009-10, the time has come to turn the page. The focus now is the playoffs.
“It was an amazing run we were on and it’s sad that it ended, but none of that matters going into the playoffs,” Johnston said. “All that matters is the playoffs and Game 1 on Thursday.”
Storm 5 Spitfires 2
Windsor 0 1 1 – 2
Guelph 1 2 3 – 5
Firstperiod: 1. Guelph, Zhilkin 23 (Pastukhov, Poitras) 17:32. Penalty: Zhugin G (blindsiding) 11:20.
Secondperiod: 2. Windsor, Johnston 46 (Renwick, D’Amico) 5:12 (pp), 3. Guelph, Bowman 27 (Zhugin, Reesor) 12:44. Penalties: Ribau W (tripping) 1:32, Zhugin G (tripping) 3:31, Ribau W (head check) 15:56.
Third period: 4. Guelph, Zhugin 16 (Chayka) 5:27, 5. Windsor, Zhugi 17 (McFarlane, Zhilkin) 11:01, 6. Windsor, Christopoulos 14 (Maillet, Jodoin) 18:14, 7. Guelph, Buchinger 5 ( unassisted) 19:31. Penalties: Johnston W (tripping), D’Amico W (unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct) 9:04, Coughlan G (high sticking) 11:50.
Game stats – SOG – Windsor 8 4 12 – 24 Guelph 13 21 10 – 44 Goal (shots-saves) – Windsor: Medina (L,18-8-1-2) (43-39). Guelph: Bennett (W,20-16-2-2) (24-22). Power play (goals-chances) – Windsor 1-3. Guelphs 1-4. Referees: Quincy Evans (7) and Jason Faist (5). Linesmen: Matt Mannella (85) and Tristan Peacock (93). Att.: 4,614 at the Sleeman Center.