Bulldogs take aim at fourth place
One down. Fourteen to go.
The Hamilton Bulldogs kicked off the final 15 games of their schedule with a hardfought, 4-3, win in Peterborough Thursday. Brandon Saigeon led with a pair of goals, and Jack Hanley got the late-game winner.
With 14 games left, the Bulldogs are positioned to make their first playoff appearance. But head coach John Gruden doesn’t just want to make the post-season, though, he wants to make it as the fourth-place team in the Eastern Conference. That’s “the most realistic goal.” “Home ice is always important,” he added. “If you look at our record, it doesn’t seem so much for us, but in general it’s always nice to get home ice. At the end of the day, if we can continue to get some more fans, some more energy, some more buzz surrounding the playoffs and the push for that spot, it’s definitely going to help.”
If they make post-season — and there’s no reason they shouldn’t — it will bring an end to a six-year playoff drought in Hamilton. The last time Bulldogs played in the post-season was 2011, when they were still in the American Hockey League and ousted by Houston in the conference finals.
The Bulldogs went into Peterborough in fifth place, three points back of Kingston and 14 shy of the third-place Petes. With the win, they’re a single point short of Gruden’s goal.
Truth is a lot could change over the course of these 14 games — for better or worse. All but one — Monday’s matinee against the Kitchener Rangers — are against teams within Hamilton’s conference, which means a win could really help, and a loss really hurt. As Gruden sees it, “we control our own destiny.”
On Thursday, Matt Luff and Nikita Korostelev exchanged power play goals in the first before Saigeon banged a rebound past Dylan Wells to put the Bulldogs ahead — his fourth goal in two games. He doubled the lead midway through the second, but Kyle Jenkins cut it, again on the power play, two minutes later.
The Petes’ Cole Fraser beat Dawson Carty to tie it up again early in the third, but the Bulldogs goalie rebounded. He made several big saves in the closing minutes to earn his — and his team’s — third straight win. Hanley scored the winner with a little over 10 minutes left on the clock.
With the win, the Bulldogs improve to 2-01-0 against the Petes this season. They face off another three times — twice in Hamilton and once in Peterborough.
The Bulldogs are back at it Saturday night when they host the slumping Ottawa 67’s.