PRESCOTT VALLEY - Carrying a 3-1 lead just two minutes into the second period Tuesday night at Tim's Toyota Center, the Arizona Sundogs seemed destined for a Game 3 victory over the Denver Cutthroats in the CHL semifinals.
But once the Cutthroats' offense awoke, Denver turned out the lights on the Sundogs in a stunning 5-4 come-from-behind victory in overtime to grab a 2-1 series advantage.
Cutthroats forward Cam Reid scored back-to-back goals in the second period to tie it at 3-3, and Denver defenseman Steve Kaunisto lit the lamp 30 seconds into the third period to tie it at 4-4 before he tallied the game-winner with 2 minutes and 25 seconds left in sudden death OT.
"We had them where we wanted them, up 3-1," Sundogs defenseman Matt McCready said afterward. "You can't give those guys an inch, because they'll take a mile. We had too many breakdowns, and they capitalized."
Five minutes into the extra session, Sundogs star goalie Andrew Engelage (no decision, 29 saves in 65:03) left the game due to injury. It appeared as though his back was bothering him, although Arizona coach Kevin Colley would only say Engelage has an issue with his "lower body." His status isn't known for Game 4.
Sundogs backup goalie Adam Brown ultimately suffered the loss, stopping 8-of-9 Denver shots in 12:32.
With the setback, the eighth-seeded Sundogs turn right around and host the No. 2 seed Cutthroats at 6:35 tonight for Game 4.
In front of 3,326 fans in Game 3, the Sundogs were in control early before things fell apart because of defensive struggles and inopportune penalties.
"We played a pretty good game, to be honest," Colley said. "We made four mistakes, and it ended up in the back of our net - turnovers and not getting in behind the goal line. We've got to rebound (Wednesday)."
With the Sundogs in front 4-3 going into the third period, Kaunisto, a former Sundog, tied it up at 4-4 only 30 seconds into the final frame on assists from Mikael Tam and Troy Schwab.
"Our team's kind of been like that all year," Kaunisto said. "We never give up. We play until the horn sounds, and we just keep pushing and pushing. We started keeping things a little more simple in our d-zone. And then our offense just started picking up from there."
In OT, Kaunisto scored on assists from Kyle Fletcher and Jean-Philipp Chabot, another former Sundog. The puck glanced off a skate and into the back of Arizona's cage. Even though the light didn't go on, the officials ruled that the goal counted.
"It was just a fluky goal off our skate, and still didn't go in," Colley said, "and Brownie did everything he could to keep it from crossing the line. It wasn't our night."
The game became quite physical as it progressed. By the end of the third period, tempers boiled over with some skirmishes between a few players near the Denver bench.
In all, the Sundogs committed 11 infractions for 33 minutes in the penalty box, while the Cutthroats had 10 infractions for 23 minutes in the sin bin.
During the third, Denver's Robin Soudek drilled Sundogs forward Shawn Limpright along the boards behind the Cutthroats' goal with 18:32 to go. Limpright would leave the game.
A few minutes later, the Sundogs' Alex Velischek was called for roughing on Denver's Reid, but the Sundogs killed the power play with 13:30 remaining.
It was a stalemate from there.
With Arizona leading 2-1 at the first intermission, the Sundogs capitalized on their second power play opportunity with 18:01 left in the second.