After watching his Kingston Frontenacs come as close as possible to belching out a five-goal lead, Gilmour wasn't exactly a happy camper.
“You never take anything for granted, especially at this time of year,” Gilmour said in the aftermath of the Frontenacs' 7-5 nailbiter over the Erie Otters at the K-Rock Centre on Sunday.
“It's 6-2 going into the third period and (the Frontenacs players) just shut it down. That's not acceptable. We've got to fight every period. If you go out and follow the program and (do) what I said — get the puck in, forecheck and have a third man back — we're not going to be in that situation.”
Improbably, it wasn't game, set, match until the dependable Zach Harnden deposited an empty-netter to complete a hat trick with 18 seconds left.
The Otters, playing their third game in as many days in eastern Ontario, cut the gap to 6-4 with two short-handed goals on the same Kingston power play early in the third.
From there, the Otters controlled momentum. But a tripping penalty to Andrew Yogan, a legit call despite the Erie centre's protestations, with 1:01 left helped the Frontenacs escape with their seventh win in a row at home.
“They know I'm disappointed,” Gilmour said. “I thought they played well up until the third. But (the third period stumble) just can't happen.”
In the end, the Frontenacs still managed to improve to a season-best three games over .500 (29-26-1-3).
The Frontenacs also got good news on the Ontario Hockey League out-of-town scoreboard as the Brampton Battalion lost 2-1 against the Barrie Colts. That puts Kingston seven points ahead of Brampton in the race for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The top four teams in the East have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which would could be a significant edge for the Frontenacs, considering their recent winning ways in Kingston.
The late slip Sunday was surprising as the Frontenacs played 40 very good minutes against an Otters team (29-24-5-2) that had won three in a row and eight of its past 10.
Kingston followed the traditional recipe for success against a road-weary team — take an early lead and then extend the advantage in the second period — before the third-period letdown.
It seemed fitting that Harnden, a good overage pickup, sealed it. The hat trick gave him 24 goals on the season, topping his career-high of 23 two years ago with the Peterborough Petes.
“It's been a great place to play,” Harnden said. “It's been fun on and off the ice. Especially since Christmas, our team's been winning and that's great.”
Harnden has developed good chemistry with linemate Nathan Moon, who assisted on all three goals by the overager. Moon also scored one of his own.
“Playing with Mooner most of the year, we've gone through our highs and lows, but we've stuck together,” Harnden said.
Erie goaltender Adam Courchaine was pulled in favour of Ramis Sadikov after giving up four goals.
Michael Fine, Mitch Lebar and Joe Pleckaitis also scored for Kingston.
Harnden hopes his team learned what not to do with a big lead on Sunday.
“I think they just played a lot harder and we got a little too easy on them,” he said. “A couple of quick goals early in the third kind of set us back on our heels.
“Thankfully, we pulled through.”
Game notes: Kingston coach Doug Gilmour figures backup goalie John Cullen (knee) is about a week away from returning. Kingston forward Derek Froats (knee) and defenceman Jaroslav Kruzik (flu) have similar timelines. ... The Frontenacs need just six points in their final nine games to clinch their first playoff spot in three years. ... The Frontenacs have another busy week this week. They travel to Oshawa to meet the Generals on Wednesday before facing the rival Belleville Bulls in a home-and-home series — Friday at the K-Rock Centre and Saturday afternoon at Yardmen Arena. ... The Frontenacs have a favourable schedule down the stretch. Of their nine remaining games, only two come against teams with winning records — the Ottawa 67's on March 7 and the Barrie Colts on March 13. ... Yesterday marked Kingston's final game against a Western Conference team this year. The Frontenacs' record against the West was 7-13.