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3rd period meltdown puts Delta Ice Hawks on the brink in PJHL finals

Ridge Meadows explodes for five unanswered goals in final period for third straight win in Ladner to take a 3-2 series lead
Ridge Meadows goaltender Cam Connolly turned away Kyle Robinson on this scoring chance during game five action of the PJHL finals on Thursday night at the Ladner Leisure Centre. The Flames erupted for five goals in the third period to stun the Ice Hawks 7-3 to take a 3-2 series lead. Mark Booth Photo

It was only fitting a third period meltdown by the home team was immediately followed by the ice removal at the Ladner Leisure Centre on Thursday night.

The Delta Ice Hawks won’t play another home game this season and it’s probably a good thing the way the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship series has unfolded. The Ridge Meadows Flames erupted for five unanswered goals in the third period to pull off a stunning 7-3 victory and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Flames have won all three games in Ladner while Delta will look to do the same at Cam Neely Arena in Maple Ridge where game six will take place on Saturday night. If needed, game seven will be at George Preston Recreation Centre in Langley with no local options available for the Ice Hawks.

Coming off an impressive 5-1 road win on Wednesday, Delta looked poised to take its first lead of the series when Greater Vancouver Canadians affiliate Declan Warburton’s first goal of the playoffs made it 3-2 after 40 minutes.

However, the Flames pulled even on their first power play of the game as Jack Foster beat Merik Erickson at the 2:52 mark. It was the start of a difficult stretch for the Ice Hawks goaltender who earned first star honours 24 hours earlier.

Goals from Pierce Whyte and Zack Lagrange followed two minutes later and Ridge Meadows suddenly had a 5-3 lead. Foster would later complete his hat trick and Lagrange added his second of the night. The five-goal explosion came on seven shots.

Ice Hawks GM and head coach Steve Robinson has been rotating his goaltenders throughout the playoffs. He wanted to go with rookie Zach Shaughnessy Thursday instead of Erickson for his third start in four nights.

That plan ended earlier in the day when a freak accident in his Grade 12 PE class sent Shaughnessy to the hospital.

“He was at the driving range and got hit in the forehead by a golf club (on a back swing). His head was split open and he had to have surgery,” said Robinson. “Fortunately there was only muscle damage (that required 15 stiches), but he is out seven to 10 days at least.”

Now it’s up to Robinson and his staff to get Erickson and the rest of the team to rebound from the difficult loss with no room for any more lapses.

Adding to the adversity was Alex Lucchesi receiving a head contact major penalty in the final minute of play that resulted in a three-game suspension. He will join linemate Henry Smith in the stands Saturday who earned a two-game suspension for his second slew-footing double minor of the season in game four.

Smith would at least be available for game seven, but the Ice Hawks are going to have to dig deep to get there.

Delta got off to a terrific start, out shooting the Flames 13-3 in the early going and taking a 1-0 lead on Connor Merriman’s power play goal. However, the visitors responded with a strong finish to close out the opening period and were rewarded with Foster’s equalizer in the final minute.