SAGINAW, Mich. – Luke Cairns waited his entire OHL career to gain consistency in his offensive game. He has achieved it at the right time.
The Saginaw Spirit forward had four goals and six points in his final seven regular-season games, and followed that with two goals and three points in the first three games of this Western Conference quarterfinal series against his former team, the Erie Otters. “I’ve just matured over the years, and realized what I need to do every night,” Cairns said.
Cairns, 19, spent his first three years in Erie before being traded to Belleville last August. Along the way, he said, “I’d have a few good games here and there in Erie, and then I’d fall off the map for the next few games. This year, I think, has been different.” He had 16 goals – a career high – and 40 points – one shy of his career best – in 61 games this season.
“It just happened to be good timing coming into the playoffs,” said Cairns, who has benefited from playing on the No. 1 line alongside Kristoff Kontos and Eric Locke.
* Speaking of the Spirit’s top line: The Otters’ No. 1 line of Connor Brown (45 goals, 83 assists, 128 points), Dane Fox (64-43-107) and Connor McDavid (28-71-99) finished the regular season as three of the league’s top four scorers. But they have combined for one fewer point (4 goals, 15 points) than the Cairns-Kontos-Locke line (5 goals, 15 points) in the first three games of this series. They have headlined a Spirit attack that has scored 13 goals in the series against the league’s top scoring defense this season (170 goals against).
“We’ve got a lot of good offensive forwards,” said Cody Payne, who scored the winning goal in overtime Monday night. “At points we struggled in the season, but we’re starting to find consistency. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our offensive forwards. We’re just doing our jobs.”
* Wigle feeling better: RW Joe l Wigle was helped off the ice in the second period Monday after a knee-on-knee collision with teammate Travis Wood. Yet he returned in the third period and was back on the ice for Tuesday’s practice despite some bruising and stiffness in his knee. “I feel fine. … Nothing I won’t be able to battle through,” Wigle said. “Scooter (head athletic trainer Scott McLay) just took a lot at it. (There’s) nothing wrong with it really.”
* Learning experience: Rookie F Dylan Strome has four points in the series. But he was more concerned with a failed clearing attempt that led to the winning goal Monday.
Strome tried to find linemate Andre Burakovsky along the boards in the Otters’ defensive zone. “I didn’t see Payne come pick it off. Obviously he got a shot off the half wall. I think it maybe got tipped in front. I’m not sure what happened. That stuff happens. You’ve got to flush it and look forward to (tonight).”
* Quote of the day: “We go into this series as underdogs, but we love that. We don’t mind that at all. Now (the Otters) start to think, (and) they’re a little bit on their heels. We have two more games in Saginaw. So we’re just trying to hit them and wear them down.” – Cody Payne, Spirit forward
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