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Extra exhilarating: Kestner's OT goal gives Newfoundland Growlers win in Kelly Cup opener

Newfoundland Growlers backup goalie Eamon McAdam (35) congratulates Josh Kestner after Kestner had scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Toledo Walleye Saturday night at Mile One Centre. The win gave the Growlers a 1-0 lead over the Walleye in the best-of-seven ECHL final. — Newfoundland Growlers photo/Jeff Parsons
Newfoundland Growlers backup goalie Eamon McAdam (35) congratulates Josh Kestner after Kestner had scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Toledo Walleye Saturday night at Mile One Centre. The win gave the Growlers a 1-0 lead over the Walleye in the best-of-seven ECHL final. — Newfoundland Growlers photo/Jeff Parsons

Toledo Walleye force overtime with three unanswered third-period tallies at Mile One, but home side comes away with history-making victory

For the Newfoundland Growlers, there was no way this one would end with an in-between result.

It wouldn’t have been described as a just tough loss or a good win, a disappointing setback or a solid victory.

No, the way Game 1 of the ECHL Kelly Cup final had transpired, this was going to be either a devastating loss or an exhilarating, historic triumph.

Josh Kestner made sure it was the latter, scoring his second goal of the game almost five minutes into overtime to give the Growlers a 4-3 win over the Toledo Walleye before a sold-out crowd at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series goes 7 p.m. Sunday at Mile One.

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Lessons learned

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On Saturday, Zach O’Brien and Hudson Elynuik also scored for Newfoundland in what was the first-ever home-ice win in a championship series by a professional hockey team from St. John’s.

On Saturday, Zach O’Brien and Hudson Elynuik also scored for Newfoundland in what was the first-ever home-ice win in a championship series by a professional hockey team from St. John’s.

Chris Crane, Shane Berschbach and Greg Wolfe had the Walleye goals. Beginning with Crane's marker — which ended Growlers goaltender Michale Garteig's shutout streak at 170 minutes — they came on three straight shots in a six-minute, 23-second stretch midway through the period, and like consecutive zaps from a Taser, they stunned both the home team and the home team faithful.

But they didn’t knock the home side out. After Wolfe scored the tying goal with seven minutes left in regulation, the Growlers and Garteig hung on and hung in and got to OT, where it was Newfoundland showed it had well recovered from its third-period travails, and pressured the Walleye and goalie Pat Nagle from the get-go. Eventually, Kestner burst down the left side and leaned past lanky Toledo defenceman Randy Gazzola before quickly switching from backhand to forehand and zipping a shot over the glove-hand shoulder of Nagle and into the top corner of the Toledo goal.

“You always dream about scoring overtime goals, you always want to be the hero and you'd like for it to be a nice goal,” said Kestner, “but really, right there, you'd take anything, do anything to help the boys win.”

The goal came deep into Kestner's shift. The rookie forward admitted that he was thinking of going for a change, but linemate Hudson Elynuik got the puck just on the Walleye's side of the centre-ice line and fed a backhand pass that deflected off a Toledo player onto stick of right-shooting Kestner, who raced down what was his off-wing.

“When I was coming down, to be honest, I thought he (Gazzola) had a step on me, at least first glance when I made a shoulder check, but when I looked up a second time, I saw he was a little slow turning and I thought I was going to beat him clean wide,” said Kestner.

“But he's a big guy, what's he 6-4? So I had to make a quick, shifty play with the stick and the get the shot away and luckily, it went in.”

The goal ended what was the seventh pro hockey championship final contest ever played in St. John's. The previous six games had resulted in losses for the local side.

In 1992, the St. John’s Maple Leafs had fallen 4-3 to the Adirondack Red Wings in a American Hockey League Calder Cup final that saw the visitors win every game. In 2014, the St, John’s IceCaps lost both their home games en route to being defeated 4-1 by the Texas Stars in another Calder Cup championship matchup.

“Did not know that,” said Growlers coach John Snowden after being informed of his team's red-letter result. “That's nice. We'll enjoy it for a little bit, but we've got another game to get ready for, and it's against what we can see is a very good, very well-coached team that's not going to quit.

“It was great to get that one. Now, we've got to get ready to get another one.”

Twitter: @telybrendan

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