A road trip that began in strong fashion ended in disappointment for the CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins after the club lost two of three games.
The Bruins (1-4-1) started the trip with a 5-4 victory over the Nipawin Hawks on Friday. They then lost 5-1 to the La Ronge Ice Wolves and 2-1 to the Humboldt Broncos.
Bruins head coach and general manager Keith Cassidy said the team could have won the last two games as well if not for a couple of lapses.
"I thought that the effort from the team was there except for the third period in the La Ronge game and about a five-minute span in the Humboldt game. Other than that, I thought we played real good hockey," he said.
"A lot of guys stepped up and chose to prove that they want to be here and that they want to buy in and get it done."
The trip began with an encouraging showing against the high-octane Hawks.
The Bruins came out on fire in the first period, getting goals from Cole Olson and Tyler Kauk while outshooting Nipawin 12-5.
"I think it was great in terms of our team's confidence and realizing what we can do when we're firing on all cylinders. It was nice to see us jump out to a lead and it was nice to see us answer to everything they threw at us," said Cassidy.
Former Bruin Ryan Ostertag got the Hawks on the board 1:14 into the second, only for Tanner Froese to reply 18 seconds later.
Nipawin's Carter Coben cut the Bruins' lead in half at 8:26. That score remained intact until a late-period flurry saw three goals scored in three minutes.
Bruins rookie Brandon Halbgewachs scored at the 17:24 mark, Nipawin's Eric Bollefer countered a minute later and Olson added his second of the game only five seconds before the buzzer, giving the Bruins a 5-3 lead.
Hawks defenceman Keenan Martens had the only goal of the third, scoring with 2:28 to play.
In La Ronge the next night, the Bruins wasted several opportunities in the first period and that haunted them later on.
Although the Wolves would score four goals in the third period to run away with the game, Cassidy said the lack of killer instinct early in the game was the tipping point.
"Our problem wasn't so much the third period as it was the first period, where we probably should have had a 3-0 or 4-0 lead," he said. "I think we played two very solid periods and at times, I think we dominated the game."
The teams traded goals in the second, with Wolves forward Nathan Boyer lighting the lamp at the 7:23 mark, and Austin Daae replying five minutes later for Estevan.
Jared Iron scored at the 6:30 mark of the third to give La Ronge a 2-1 lead.
"I still wasn't particularly uncomfortable at that point. We got a power play (later) and I think a couple of vets were a little nonchalant in what they were doing," said Cassidy, describing a shorthanded goal by Graham Smerek nine minutes in.
He said that goal took the wind out of the Bruins' sails.
Boyer and Rhyse Dieno would score later in the period to put the game out of reach.
"I was disappointed with that after a solid 40 minutes. In a tough building to play in, we gave ourselves an opportunity to win and we didn't seize it in the third period," said Cassidy.
In Humboldt, the Bruins surrendered two goals in 21 seconds early in the first period and never recovered.
Dylan Fluter and Cody Pongracz had the markers for the Broncos.
"The first one was on a power play and the second was a broken play that they capitalized on. You take away that 40 seconds and it was a great hockey game," said Cassidy.
Tyler Paslawski scored for Estevan with 26 seconds left in the period.
There was no scoring in the final 40 minutes.
Bruins goalie Curtis Martinu was kept busy on the trip, facing a total of 116 shots in the three games and stopping 105.
Cassidy said the biggest problem for the Bruins right now is the inability to finish on their scoring chances.
"Obviously I'm not pleased with where we're at in the standings, but in terms of what we're doing as a team, I feel pretty good," he said. "When you've got goaltending and you've got defence and all you need is the scoring, you feel pretty good about that."
The Bruins are back in action on Saturday when they host the Weyburn Red Wings. Game time is 7:30 p.m.