With only eight goals on the night, the obvious standouts wore masks and their share of bruises.
Netminding and defence ruled the roost Sunday, as the New Westminster junior Salmonbellies edged the Victoria Shamrocks 5-3 in Game 6 of their best-of-seven B.C. Junior A Lacrosse semifinal at Queen's Park Arena.
And coming off a less-than inspired effort the day before, when the Shamrocks took a 3-2 series lead with a polished 10-4 win on the Island, Game 6's result was just what the doctor ordered.
It means the two rivals will do it one more time -- Wednesday in Victoria -- with the victor earning a ticket to the league final, as well as a guaranteed spot to the Minto Cup national championship tournament, with B.C. serving as the host.
Forced into a must-win situation, New West came out with a superior performance, locking down the crease in front of netminder Kyle Hebert, and bided it's time before finding some rare space between Victoria goalie Cam Dunkerley and the net.
Will Malcom's marker at 11:26 into the third stood up as the difference, as New West dominated much of the final 35 minutes.
If they can replicate the same effort at the Q Centre on Wednesday, 'Bellies coach Rich Catton feels confident that the outcome will be favourable.
"If we bring the same defence and be patient on the offensive end, beat Dunkerley when we can, i expect we'll play well and hopefully come out with the win," said Catton. "But we've got to show up and have the effort like we had today. We have the opportunity to do that and return with the win."
For the longest time both goalies kept the opposition frustrated, turning aside shot after shot. In the second period after the Shamrocks tied the game 3-3 and erased an impressive 3-0 start by the host 'Bellies, Dunkerley was on the firing line as his team was forced to play two-men short after a spat of penalties, including match penalties to Victoria captain Brian Robb and Max Wilson two minutes apart. That run of penalties seemed to pull the plug on any momentum the visitors got from their three-goal run, as they went without a shot on goal for nearly seven minutes, while New West ended the middle period with a 39-21 edge on the shot clock.
Despite that heavy advantage for New West, the score was still deadlocked, thanks to Dunkerley. At times, New West shooters could be excused if they thought the goal net had shrunk, as the large 'Rocks goalie flicked aside shot after shot. Not even a heavy blast taken squarely off the goal mask seemed to faze the Orangeville, Ont. native.
In the third period both netminders continued their stellar play, with the 'Bellies' Kyle Hebert standing up to the task by twice turning back Victoria's Patrick Dodds, including point-blank from the edge of the crease five minutes into the frame. Finally, with 8:34 to play, Malcom found some low daylight from the slot, with his shot for the five-hole just barely crossing the goal line.
"Dunkerley was really standing on his head today," said Malcom. "We weren't shooting very well but i know the next game we'll be better. We learn from every game. ... It was a little rough for me, a bad shooting night. It was nice to see one go in."
Nearly four minutes later, Erik Maas' second of the night proved to be a critical insurance marker, as he converted a rebound off the backboards to provide a narrow cushion.
Scoring the earlier goals for New West were Mack Burns and Kieran McKay.
"I've got to say their goalie played really well - both goalies played really well. For a while we were all over them on the powerplay and they just weren't going in. Not much you can say, sometimes you run into a hot goalie, but both goalies were exceptional today," said Catton.
On Saturday, Victoria broke a 1-1 tie late in the first period, then added three more to start the second to build a four-goal advantage. While Tre Leclaire and Malcom would draw the 'Bellies within a pair, the Shamrocks responded with the next four goals to pull away.
"We had a good discussion when we got off the bus (Saturday) night. You've got to leave that behind you and move forward," remarked Catton. "This is our barn, this is where we play great lacrosse. Now we get an opportunity to go back over there, whee we've had some great games over there. If we bring the same team over to the Island we'll have a great game."
Malcom says any anxious moments heading into a must-win game, as Sunday's was and Wednesday's will be, had no effect on the floor once the whistle blew.
"It was a little nervewracking but we have a lot of fifth-year guys who have a lot of experience so we like to use that as an advantage," said Malcom.
New West won Game 1 in the provincial capital, 9-8, before Victoria returned the favour by topping the 'Bellies 10-7 in Game 2 at Queen's Park. In Game 3, the Shamrocks held on to edge the visitors 15-14, before the Royal City crew responded with a 13-11 triumph in Game 4.
The team continues to play without defensive stalwart Jake Stott, who served his second game of a three-game suspension and will not be eligible for Wednesday's contest. He was tagged with a five-minute boarding major in Game 4, early in the third period, which drew the extended discipline from the league.
Leclaire sits first among all scorers in the playoffs, with 11 goals and 16 assists over six games, while Victoria's Teoshontathe Mccomber is one-point back.
Coquitlam locked up a berth to the BCJALL final by defeating Nanaimo four games to two in their semifinal.