Game 102
Swordsmen 4
Stallions 3
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GREENS DAY

DENVER - The true test of a champion is how they are able to come through in the close games. For the Greensboro Swordsmen, they proved that they were more than up to the task four straight times in the 2016 XHL Cup Finals. And as a result, they are champions for the third time in their history.

Dwight Helminen scored the game-tying and go-ahead goals to give him six goals in three games as the Swordsmen completed a four-game sweep of the Stallions with a 4-3 Game 4 win in Denver to become the 2016 XHL Cup Champions. It is their third title (2007, 2014, 2016) in franchise history and the first XHL Cup Finals sweep since the New Hampshire Blizzard (now the New England Whalers) swept the Portland Phantoms (now the Los Angeles Kings) in 2002.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Helminen. "This is all you ever dream about as a kid growing up and playing the game. To have now done it twice with these guys is all I could have ever asked for."

The Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP went to Nick Schultz, who recorded 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 total points in 21 games. Schultz also acted as the de facto captain in the absence of Devin Setoguchi - Greensboro's leader who missed the majority of the playoffs.

"To have been able to win this without Devin isn't quite the same," said Schultz, "But it also shows how truly resourceful we are, and how deep we are, and I'm so proud that were able to come together like this."

Setoguchi would not be left out, however, as he would come onto the ice to receive the Cup from the commissioner, before handing it over to Schultz and the rest of Greensboro's players.

"It's a bittersweet feeling, but it's still great to have won," said Setoguchi. "You wish you could've been out there, but these guys deserved it, and I'm so proud of what we all accomplished throughout this season."

For Greensboro, it was a fitting end to a successful overall season. They led the Orr division from wire-to-wire, became the first team to win both the Presidents Trophy and the XHL Cup since the 2006 Chicago Blue Demons (who ironically defeated Greensboro en route to their feat) and only needed 21 total playoff games to bring the XHL Cup home to North Carolina.

As for Denver, it was a disappointing end to a roller coaster season. Playing their first season in Colorado after moving from St. Louis, the Stallions roared out to an outstanding start to the season - one in which they were in first for most of the first half of the season. But a second half meltdown, which saw Vancouver overcome a huge margin to overtake them in the Hull division nearly saw them miss the playoffs altogether.

Things continued to get worse following losses in the first two games of their first round series with Winnipeg, but then they would rebound and eventually take the series in seven games. After that, they would defeat the always-dangerous Montreal Moose in seven, and then in the North American Conference Finals, they would rally from down 3-1 to knock off the Quebec Red Devils in seven.

But they seemed to run out of gas in the Finals despite losing every game by just one goal - a feat that will stick with them through the long offseason.

"It hurts to come that close and not only lose the series, but get swept entirely," said Wayne Simmonds, who led the league in points in the playoffs. "We could have done a lot more. It's a proud feeling to get this far, but you just can't help but want more."

Denver received excellent support from their hometown fans in their inaugural season in the mile high city, and there's little doubt they'll be a force once again next season. But this night, and this season, belonged to the Greensboro Swordsmen.

Thomas Vanek opened the scoring for Greensboro at 12:15 of the first on his sixth of the playoffs, but the Stallions would strike back less than two minutes later at 13:49 as Greg Mauldin's fourth of the year tied the game at 1 after one.

In the second, Denver would take the lead at 14:20 on Simmonds' 15th of the playoffs only to see Greensboro even the score once again at 18:28 on Joakim Andersson's fourth. However, with just 17 seconds to play in the period, Zbynek Michalek picked a prime time to score his first of the playoffs as Denver carried a 3-2 lead into the third.

But the big storyline of Game 4 - the penalties - would lead to Denver's downfall in the final period. The Stallions had nine penalties called on them compared to zero for Greensboro - a trend throughout the series that highly displeased Denver's fans, players and coaches. And early in the third, the Swordsmen would make the Stallions pay.

Jonathan Toews was called for holding just 13 seconds into the third to give Greensboro yet another power play, and after failing to take advantage on the first six power plays, they would cash in on the seventh as Dwight Helminen continued his hot play with his ninth of the playoffs on the power play 59 seconds into the third to make it 3-3.

Then at 11:27, Helminen would strike again with his second of the game, tenth of the playoffs and sixth goal in three games as the Swordsmen took a 4-3 lead - a lead that they would not relinquish.

That would be it for the Stallions, as well as the 2016 XHL season as the Swordsmen once again claimed the top of the XHL mountain as their own.

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