Sting fail to hold off Wolves in another rocky third period

The Sarnia Sting’s inability to finish off games may be what ultimately finishes their playoff hopes.

Sarnia Sting's Theo Hill (16) battles Sudbury Wolves' Jack Thompson (22) in the third period at Progressive Auto Sales Arena in Sarnia, Ont., on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. Mark Malone/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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The Sarnia Sting’s inability to finish off games may be what ultimately finishes their playoff hopes.

The Sting are stuck in the OHL’s Western Conference basement after losing three straight games and 12 of 13.

In eight of those 12 losses, they were leading or tied in the third period.

The latest instance was Saturday when the Sudbury Wolves scored three consecutive goals in the third for a 5-4 comeback win before 2,823 fans at Progressive Auto Sales Arena.

“We’ve been up in games, tied in games, whatever it is,” Sting head coach Derian Hatcher said. “Right now, we just don’t know how to close. We’re struggling. Our confidence is low. And it’s everyone.

“Our D-men take unnecessary risks, our forwards don’t come back, our goalies don’t make a save when we need it. It’s just a whole combination of things right now.”

The Sting are 2-5-4-0 in one-goal decisions. Eight of those nine losses have come since early December.

“We’re having troubles right now closing out games,” said captain Ryan McGregor, who had two assists. “I think the consistency’s been our biggest problem where we have a couple good periods (but) we haven’t been able to put together a full 60 in awhile.

“Just working on being consistent and it starts with everybody. It’s everybody. There’s nobody in particular that’s doing it bad, it’s just as a unit we’re doing it. We’ve got to clean that up and we’ll be fine.”

McGregor set the Sting’s career record by playing in his 268th regular-season game. The record had been held by John Hecimovic, who played in 267 games from 2000-04.

The Sting played without centre Jamieson Rees, who was suspended indefinitely for his head-checking major penalty in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Erie Otters. The league will hold a hearing on Rees, but Hatcher hasn’t been told when.

Jacob Perreault led the Sting’s offence with two goals for his ninth multi-goal game of the season. The sophomore right-winger now has 28 goals to share the team lead with Sean Josling.

The Sting (16-24-4-0) remain 10 points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 24 games left.

“Any time you get in a rut, it’s never easy to get out of,” McGregor said. “We’ve found ourselves in a couple different ruts this year and we haven’t done a great job getting out of them.

“This is one where we take tomorrow (Sunday) off and use today and tomorrow to rest and get back at it Monday and get ready for next week. I think we’ve got a couple big games coming up. Every game now is big. We’ve got to do a couple things better and we’ll be fine.”

The Sting will visit Owen Sound on Wednesday and Kitchener on Friday. They’ll host the Windsor Spitfires at 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

“The message is we’re going to dig in,” Hatcher said. “And if you don’t want to dig in, let us know and you won’t play. That’s the message. That’s what was said. They’ll have the day off tomorrow (Sunday), but you have 24 hours to think about if you want to be part of it or not.”

The Wolves took a 2-0 lead on power-play goals from David Levin and Matej Pekar in the final minute of the first period after Ryan Mast received a double minor for high sticking.

Perreault answered with two goals 30 seconds apart early in the second period.

Theo Hill put the Sting ahead 3-2 at 4:25 of the third period. He got a step on his man to create a two-on-one rush and converted a pass from Brayden Guy.

The Wolves replied with the next three goals.

Hatcher agreed with the suggestion that teams can learn to close out games better.

“It’s something you can learn, but, with that said, you need the confidence to do it, too,” he said. “Confidence, it’s not an easy thing to get when you don’t have it. … We need that extra goal or we need the goalie to make a big save for us or whatever it is to get us going in the right direction.”

The Sting face a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Maybe winning breeds confidence, but they need confidence in order to start winning.

“That’s the problem, right?” Hatcher said. “We get leads and then for whatever reasons we stop doing things in a game.  As much as we tell them we want the next goal, they’re hesitant to do it. I know it’s not that easy just saying we want the next goal, but it snowballs and right now we’re on a pretty good roll.”

Emmett Serensits began the Wolves’ comeback at 5:50 by collecting a loose puck and scoring from the slot.

Blake Murray followed at 9:01 with a one-timer from the top of the left circle.

Potential No. 1 NHL draft pick Quinton Byfield capped his four-point game with a power-play goal at 11:12 for a 5-3 lead.

The Wolves went 3-for-5 on the power play, while the Sting were 0-for-6.

Guy scored an extra-attacker goal with 2:37 left, but the Sting couldn’t get another shot past netminder Mitchell Weeks.

Weeks made 18 saves in the third period and 29 overall. Sting goalie Ethan Langevin made 24.

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