HAMILTON - The Hamilton Bulldogs were given several opportunities to win on Saturday, but missed out on all of them.
Mark Olver scored the shootout winner and Calvin Pickard made 33 saves as the Lake Erie Monsters edged the Bulldogs 3-2 in American Hockey League action. Hamilton led until the final seconds of regulation, and squandered an extended power play in overtime before eventually losing in a shootout.
"Games like these are painful lessons," said Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "I thought that we played well enough to win the game.
"Obviously, you want your power play to close it out in overtime."
Paul Carey and Bill Thomas also scored for the Monsters (18-15-3). Brendan Gallagher and Frederic St. Denis had goals for the Bulldogs (12-19-3), while Robert Mayer stopped 35 of 37 shots.
The Monsters snatched victory from the Bulldogs' grasp with 3.9 seconds left on the clock.
Lake Erie was pressing wildly for the equalizer when the puck slid through the crease with Mayer scrambling. Thomas separated himself from the crowd and got just enough of his stick on the puck to tip it backhanded into the open net.
The Bulldogs enjoyed over three minutes of power-play time in the extra period after the Monsters' Cameron Gaunce was assessed a double-minor penalty for high-sticking, but could not find the net on the ensuing advantage.
Gallagher believed that his team had taken too much time searching for the perfect chance on its wasted power play, when the Bulldogs should have been content with firing shots on goal.
"You've got to find that line between patience and urgency," said the rookie forward. "When you have four minutes, you want to find the right shot, but at the same time, you have to be taking shots.
"That's disappointing. We had a good chance to win the game and when you're in that situation, you're expected to score."
Michael Bournival scored on the Bulldogs' third shot of the shootout, with Stefan Elliot responding on the Monsters' fourth. Olver ended the game by scoring on Lake Erie's next attempt.
The first period opened at a subdued pace, with the home side getting the better of the action but unable to put together quality scoring chances. Hamilton reeled off eight of the first nine shots of the game, due in part to Lake Erie's early penalty trouble.
Nathan Beaulieu had Hamilton's best chance of the period with nine minutes remaining, when the defenceman rushed into the offensive zone and quickly rounded the visitors' net, testing Pickard with a shot along the post.
Lake Erie opened the scoring at 18:52 of the first, when winger Carey entered the Bulldogs' zone and released a routine wrist shot from the top of the left circle that handcuffed Mayer and trickled past him.
Pickard nearly suffered the same fate in the final seconds of the period, as a shot through traffic settled behind him but no Bulldog could successfully tap the loose puck across the goal-line.
The hosts squandered another chance to draw even six minutes into the second, when Steve Quailer rushed down the left to conclude a power play and found Louis Leblanc with a precise cross-ice pass from below the red-line.
Leblanc appeared unprepared to receive the pass however, and the puck bounced off his stick while Pickard scrambled to recover his position.
An individual effort by Gallagher got Hamilton a goal at 10:40 of the second. He received a long pass from goaltender Mayer and spearheaded what quickly became a two-on-one break for the Bulldogs.
Gallagher had a passing option to his right but kept the puck, and skated to the faceoff dot before releasing a wrist shot that beat Pickard over the far shoulder.
A Bulldog power play quickened the game's pace early in the third, after Lake Erie's Mike Sgarbossa was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for inciting a fight with Hamilton's Stefan Chaput.
Monster forward Andrew Agozzino was the recipient of a giveaway at his blue-line that sprung him on a short-handed break, but he skated himself out of space and managed to fire only a meagre effort at Mayer.
The Bulldogs nearly scored immediately after the miscue, as Beaulieu's point shot through traffic struck Pickard's far post and deflected wide.
Gallagher was once again at the forefront when the home side scored to take the lead at 11:31 of the third. The winger skated in on yet another two-on-one and elected to pass, sliding the puck cross-ice to St. Denis, who made no mistake in firing it into the open net.