Just like in 2017, it was a case of so near, and yet so far. EV Zug dominated the first ten of their play-off games this post-season but ultimately went down in frustrating fashion, losing four games in a row to drop the best-of-seven final four games to one. The ultimately decisive game five on Saturday night was a 2-1 defeat in the PostFinance Arena where again, the boys in blue had plenty of chances without really looking as if they would get past the seemingly impregnable SC Bern netminder Leonardo Genoni.
Zug were on the back foot before the puck dropped, with first-line centre Garrett Roe absent due to what coach Dan Tangnes described as a "minor injury" (for him to miss game 5 must have meant he was unable to walk at the very least). David McIntyre came in to replace him, while Johann Morant was back, Livio Stalder giving way.
Things got worse from a blue point of view eight minutes into the match when Dominic Lammer cross-checked a defender in the face in the kind of move you usually associate with the dying minutes of a blow-out loss, to make a point once the game is lost. He had to sit out 2+2 minutes for his folly, and while the penalty kill managed to see off the first two minutes, Gaetan Haas opened the scoring for the home team early in the second part of the penalty.
Zug got their first power play with four minutes to go in the first, but without Roe they lacked focus and failed to create any decent chances, and went into the first break a goal adrift. That all changed within 30 seconds of the re-start. Tangnes again sent out his second line to open the period as he had done to begin the match, and when Genoni for once gave up a big rebound from a speculative Reto Suri shot, play-off top scorer Lino Martschini was Johnny-on-the-spot yet again, spinning 180 degrees to slide the pick home for the equaliser.
As was the case in game 4, EVZ then had a goal disallowed, this time for a clear offside as McIntyre, who went on to score the goal, had his right boot well over the blue line in the offensive zone as the puck came in. And just as it looked as if the teams would go into the final period locked at a goal apiece, a shot from the blueline from Eric Blum went through traffic and Berne had the lead back. For good, it turned out.
The third period was all Zug. Rafi Diaz and Miro Zryd played as virtually fourth attackers during half of their shifts and chances came and went, alas none of them really overly threatening. Santeri Alatalo took a penalty for a combination of sins with three minutes to go, and from thereon in, the home fans could celebrate yet another trophy – the club’s 16th national league championship.
For Zug, there will be plenty of regrets. You cannot win play-off series 4-0 and 4-1 and not think that you have a chance to take home the ultimate prize. Perhaps 2020 will be the year – with Berne’s Genoni in goal for Tobias Stephan. Much will depend on overseas recruitment and maintaining a core of solid players – with local hero Suri already heading off to Lugano, the club will need to hold on to the best of the rest.
But what they have under coach Tangnes and assistant coach Josh Holden is a system where defence can be turned into attack in the blink of an eye. Where four lines are solid. Where everyone plays for their team-mates (even if they need to learn a little more discipline).
Maybe next year… Hopefully next year… Cross your fingers for next year. Because this team will be back.
Photo: PPR/Marcel Bieri