With three points now separating three teams at the top of the Ontario Hockey League's West Division, time is tight.
Sault Ste. Marie's 6-5 win over Plymouth on Friday - coupled with Sarnia's 4-3 loss in Ottawa - separates Plymouth, Sault Ste. Marie and Sarnia by three points.
Detroit Red Wing draft Ryan Sproul scored twice and added three assists to lead the Greyhounds to the victory over Plymouth before 2,322 at Compuware Arena.
Plymouth (now 25-15-5-4, 59 points) is in first place, followed by Sault Ste. Marie (27-19-2-2, 58 points) and Sarnia (27-19-0-3, 57 points).
Besides Sproul’s pair (15-16) for Sault Ste. Marie, Andrew Fritsch scored twice (16-17) and Brandon Alderson (21) and Michael Schumacher (14) one each. Plymouth got two goals and an assist from Vince Trocheck (30-31) and singles from Ryan Hartman (20), Gianluca Curcuruto (6) and Mitchell Heard (6).
The Whalers raced to a 3-1 lead in the first period on goals by Hartman (loose puck at the right circle at 3:40), Curcuruto on a power play at 7:41 (blast from the the high slot) and Trocheck at 11:30 (right circle, set up by Cody Payne) sandwiched around Sproul's first of the night at 11:04 (blast from the high slot off a face-off win in the Plymouth zone).
Soo head coach Sheldon Keefe pulled starting goaltender Matt Murray after Trocheck's goal in the first period in favor of 17-year-old goaltender Justin Nichols and Nichols went the rest of the way, stopping 34-of-36 shots to record the victory.
Late in the first period, Schumacher cut the Plymouth lead to 3-2 at 17:03. rifling the puck under the cross bar from the left circle. The Whalers led, 3-2, after forty minutes.
Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci pulled starting goaltender Matt Mahalak after the first period in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic, who stopped 21-of-25 shots the rest of the way.
The Soo scored the only goals of the second period - both on the power play - to lead, 4-3 after forty minutes. Fritsch tied the game on a deflection at 6:39 from Sproul's shot and then Sproul ripped a shot from the point on a four-on-three power play at 19:37.
Trocheck tied the game for Plymouth at 4-4 at 3:30 of the third period (set up by Zach Lorentz and scoring on a quick backhand), but Alderson scored at 6:51 (hard shot from the right circle) to give the 'Hounds a 5-4 lead.
Plymouth appeared to tie the game at 5-5 on a re-direct by Lorentz at 11:22, but the goal was waved off by referees Jason Goldenberg and Mike Cairns because of goaltender interference - even though no Plymouth penalty was called on the play.
Fritsch scored the eventual game-winner on a power play at 17:20 (re-directing a shot off the glass behind the Plymouth goal and scoring from the left side of the net) to give Sault Ste. Marie a 6-4 lead.
The Whalers never quit in the period, pressing to a 22-13 shots-on-goal advantage in the third period.
Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci pulled goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic in the final minute and Heard scored on a backhand through traffic scored with 12 seconds left. The Whalers actually had two more shots in the final seconds after calling timeout, but the ‘Hounds held on for the win.
Plymouth outshot Sault Ste. Marie, 46-39.
The Whalers host Peterborough on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena (6:45 p.m., 88.1 FM WSDP).