Niagara IceDogs own final 40 minutes, take series lead: OHL post-game questions

New York Islanders pick Mitchell Theoret scored in the first minute of each of the final two periods and Mark Visentin made goal-scoring goalie OHL history on Monday night. That helped the Niagara IceDogs break on top of the Ottawa 67's, who were missing star goalie Petr Mrazek due to illness. On with the post-game questions:

Niagara 4 Ottawa 2 (IceDogs lead Eastern Conference series 2-1) — How does one explain Niagara's near-total dominance of the last two periods? The IceDogs came out ahead 26-9 on the shot counter and 5-1 on the scoreboard across the final 40 minutes. And that Ottawa goal was nothing shy of a gift.

It was eerily reminiscent of a one-goal defensive game the IceDogs had in the nation's capital on March 9 when they essentially salted away top seeding in the Eastern Conference. In this instance, it just took 20 minutes of adapting from the raucous Jack Gatecliff Arena to a more spacious venue that was somewhat deserted due to a conflict with an Ottawa Senators playoff game, with the turnout announced at 4,394.

"We stopped circling," IceDogs coach-GM Marty Williamson said of his team's transformation. "We were a bad hockey team in that first period and credit to them, they came out and put the pressure on us. We didn't respond well. We had a strong talk between periods about getting back to our game and getting physical. All I've been hearing is how they're going to wear us down. We have some pretty big forwards and we can wear them down."

"Once we became more physical in the second period we were able to get momentum that we carried over into the third period," Williamson added. "We had more energy than they did at that point."

At one point, Ottawa led 10-2 in shots. That was about all it was able to show for the whole night.

"I thought at 1-0 and 2-1, we were playing well," 67's coach-GM Chris Byrne said. "I think tired bodies started to set in the third period and we lost a little bit of the skating edge we had earlier in the game."

What can Ottawa do differently in Game 4 to get more pressure against Niagara's Mark Visentin, whom they chased in the second period on Sunday? The top priority would be to adapt to the IceDogs defence's knack for getting sticks into lanes to squelch shot attempts.

"Maybe a little quicker releases — get it away before they block or deflect it," said left wing Dalton Smith, a Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick. "Then get to the net and get the rebounds. They are giving up a lot of rebounds and we have to bang those in."

How did that Game 2 stinker affect the IceDogs? Not a whole hell of a lot. They came off as a more self-possessed group, as the heavy favourites in the series should be. As Williamson noted, that 7-4 loss in Game 2 on Sunday in St. Catharines, Ont., was totally out of character. They certainly seized the day, with Theoret beating fill-in goalie Michael Nishi 13 seconds into the second to tie at 1-1 and then again 20 seconds into the final frame for a 3-2 lead.

"It was our game to lose," said Theoret, whose thrown-together line with Steven Shipley and David Pacan was the best on the ice. "We had all the momentum and if we kept doing what we were doing, we were going to walk away with the win. [On the winning goal] I had a chance to come to the middle and use the defence as a screen."

Theoret's breakout has been a big storyline for the IceDogs. Their big duo, world junior forwards Ryan Strome and Freddie Hamilton, have not scored yet in the series. Ottawa's 50-goal man twice over, Tyler Toffoli, also hasn't dented the net yet in the series. So Niagara's depth is winning out.

"That's why we're a championship team and that's what we were built for, We've got four lines which can produce on any night."

Does Mrazek, who stopped 93-of-99 shots in the first two games, return for Game 4? The Detroit Red Wings draft pick's illness forced Ottawa to turn to Michael Nishi, who hadn't played in five weeks. Aside from one shaky rebound early, the 18-year-old backup played fairly well under the circumstances. He stopped 31-of-35 shots and had about a half-dozen grade-A saves before the IceDogs took over the game.

Ultimately, though, the 67's need Mrazek at 100 per cent to have a chance at creating a long series. The goalie woke up feeling ill Monday and was not even seen at the rink.

"We'll know better [Tuesday]," Byrne said. "I don't think it's anything long-lasting. A virus."

As for Nishi: "For coming in cold and not knowing in the afternoon that you're going to start, I thought he did great. It's not an easy situation."

How much concern did Williamson show about allowing another short-handed goal? The IceDogs power play is 2-for-12 in the series and has coughed up two shorties to Smith. Three games is too small a sample to infer anything from, of course. Niagara had the league's best power play in the regular season, though, so it's capable of more. Ottawa's penalty kill, which is now at 91.3 per cent for the playoffs (six goals allowed in 69 chances with four short-handed goals for), has been a saving grace.

But Smith's shorty on Monday came with an asterisk because it came on a huge misplay. Mark Visentin (22 saves, plus an empty-net goal) skated out of his goal to clear the puck after an IceDogs centring pass sailed down the ice and into Niagara's zone. No IceDog seemed certain who was supposed to take the feed. That's how it ended up on Smith's stick and in the back of the net. Since Niagara won it was no harm, no foul.

"As we were joking about, Vizz had a goal and an assist," Williamson said. "The short-handed goal was just a bad break. It wasn't really a fundamental breakdown. It was just a bad break.

"Our power play's been fine, we had two goals [Sunday] night," he added. "We're generating."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.