67’s still have work to do
IceDogs rally to force Game 5 in series
As recently as late January, not even eight weeks ago, the Niagara IceDogs were given up for dead: last in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference and looking more to the draft in May and the start of training camp in September than to the postseason in late March.
And, with the IceDogs down three games to none to the Ottawa 67’s and trailing 31 after 20 minutes in Game 4 on Thursday night, the focus on the future seemed even stronger.
However, in the same fashion the IceDogs resurrected their season, they also brought themselves back from the dead in their East quarterfinal, exploding for four second-period goals on the way to a 5-3 victory that kept the 67’s from completing their first postseason sweep since the conference final in 2004-05.
The 67’s loss in front of 3,145 at Jack Gatecliff Arena means the best-of-seven series will continue with Game 5 at Scotiabank Place on Sunday at 1 p. m. Game 6, if required, would be back here Monday night.
“It was no accident Niagara made the playoffs, and it’s no accident we’ve had four close games with them,” 67’s head coach Chris Byrne said. “ It was a wild game.
“ We had a great f irst and played good in the third, but you can’t give up that many goals in any period.”
The 67’s also lost veteran forward Thomas Nesbitt with a dislocated shoulder. He will likely miss the rest of the series.
In addition, the least-penalized team in the OHL during the regular season lost its composure at times on Thursday. In one case, captain Tyler Cuma took a misconduct late in the second for protesting a roughing minor.
“ We have struggled with our discipline this series,” said forward Corey Cowick, who opened the scoring with a goal and ended Thursday’s game with his face covered in blood after an altercation. “I don’t understand it, either. It seemed like we were killing the whole ( second) period. But we’ve seen Niagara too many times over the last two years to think anything would be given to us.”
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the 67’s also have the makings of a goalie controversy. Veteran Chris Perugini was yanked after allowing the IceDogs’ fourth goal at 14:39 of the second period. Given Perugini’s spotty majorjunior hockey playoff history, rookie Petr Mrazek may get the call for Sunday’s game.
Early on Thursday night, it seemed there would be no Game 5. The 67’s were seemingly in control with a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.
It wasn’t until Matt Petgrave opened the floodgates with a power-play goal 24 seconds into the second that the IceDogs came to life. Michael Hasson, Johnson Andrews and Reggie Traccitto scored goals in a span of 4:38 and Niagara never looked back.
The 67’s made it 5-4 when Marc Zanetti scored on a power play at 12:50 of the third period, but they couldn’t get the tying goal past IceDogs netminder Mark Visentin.
In the first period, the 67’s became the last of 16 OHL teams to score a postseason power-play goal when Cowick made the IceDogs pay for Andrews’ hit from behind on Tyler Toffoli by beating Visentin at 2:36. That ended Ottawa’s 0-for-10 with the man advantage.
The shots were 8-0 in favour of Ottawa when Andrews atoned by scoring against Perugini.
Anthony Nigro counted his third of the series for Ottawa at 7:45, and Toffoli put the 67’s up by two with his goal on the power play at 14:14.
Visentin f inished with 32 saves. Perugini gave up four goals on 15 shots, and Mrazek allowed one goal on 12 shots.
COACHES’ POLL WINNERS
Three 67’s players finished near the top of the standings for the Eastern Conference in the annual OHL Coaches’ Poll. Cody Lindsay, who had 39 goals, was second in voting for most improved player and third for face-offs. Toffoli, who had 37 goals and 42 assists, was third in the most dangerous around the net category, while Nesbitt was second in top defensive forward voting.