A 42-save shutout by Niagara's Brent Moran, a 52-save effort by fellow sophomore stopper Alex Nedeljkovic, and a Sudbury Wolves club that loaded up for a playoff run is staring down the barrel of a 3-0 series deficit. Plus there was a double-overtime game and a line brawl in two other series that are now one game from being over.
Pretty quiet Tuesday night, eh? On with the post-game questions:
Niagara 2 North Bay 0 (IceDogs lead 2-1 and host Game 4 on Thursday) — When will the Battalion snap out of their funk, or is it North Bay's not-so-new normal? Outside of two quick goals early in the third period on Sunday, the Central Division champs have been blanked in 119 of the last 120 minutes. North Bay has time to turn the tables, but its being beaten at its trademark game of deny, deny, deny and pounce when an opponent is lulled into letting its guard down in the defensive zone.
Plus Moran, with 42 saves for the shutout, was simply unconscious.
“It can be frustrating out there but you have to stay patient and keep working hard,” winning goal scorer Billy Jenkins told the St. Catharines Standard with regard to facing defensively minded North Bay. "It was a frustrating first two periods but we stayed with it and got rewarded in the third."
Jenkins' winner was a pinball tally. If a puck had not bounced over Battalion captain Barclay Goodrow's stick when he was wide-open in the slot in the final minute, Former Brampton and Former Mississauga might still be playing.
Barrie 6 Sudbury 4 (Colts lead 3-0, Wolves host Game 4 on Thursday) — They tied with 77 points, but what's been the difference in the Colts pushing the Wolves to the edge of the abyss? Barrie's top-end players, from top NHL draft prospect Aaron Ekblad (1G-1A, +2 on Tuesday) on through to fellow 17-year-olds Brendan Lemieux (2G, +1) and Andrew Mangiapane (2G-1A, +1), and on through to their playoff-seasoned older players, have been more consistent.
Sudbury, which has had three one-goal losses (tonight's game was sealed by an empty-netter), has had a more uneven effort. Eight Wolves have at least two points through three games, but they seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"We didn't play well enough, we didn't start well enough, and we took too many penalties again, early penalties that are hard to kill," Wolves coach Paul Fixter said. "Five-on-five, we were good, but we didn't play enough five-on-five."
Buffalo Sabres prospect Nick Baptiste had an out-of-the-box breakaway bid to tie the game in the third period. The Colts' Mackenzie Blackwood made the save. Later in that sequence Lemieux snuck the eventual winner past Sudbury overage goalie Franky Palazzese.
Kingston 4 Peterborough 2 (Frontenacs lead 3-0, Petes host Game 4 on Thursday) — What led up to the brouhaha(s) in the last 30 seconds, after Kingston's clinching empty-netter? The post-game scrums, from the sound of it, went directly to finger-pointing. Petes veteran centre Michael Clarke got a cross-checking match penalty that will cause him to miss Game 4 (and likely further action) during a skirmish that broke out after the issue was decided.
That led to both teams putting out their tougher players, and another line brawl.
From Mike Davies:
Kingston coach Todd Gill accused the Petes coaches of intentionally sending out players to fight.
“It's embarrassing,” Gill said. “I understand no one likes to lose but when you send five guys out to fight I guess the toughest part for me is that as a coach I have never done that. I look at their two coaches and they never did that, as far as fighting. Their careers, they weren't fighters and to ask kids to go out and do that baffles me.”
Petes coach Jody Hull had a different take.
“I didn't send out anyone to fight,” Hull said. “They sent [Ryan] Verbeek, who is tough, Mack Lemmon, who played one shift a game, [Slater] Doggett is a tough kid. I get last change. If he puts those guys out there I'm not putting [skilled young forwards] Eric Cornel on the ice and Anthony Stefano. Those things happen. Their three guys jumped our one guy and things evolved from it.” (Peterborough Examiner)
Kingston's Doggett and Lemmon and Peterborough's Connor Boland and Cameron Lizotte each got game misconducts for being involved in the second fight during the same stoppage. That usually doesn't lead to having to sit out games.
Peterborough likely rated better than having to play from behind. Leading scorer Nick Ritchie finally counted to get the franchise's first home playoff game off to a promising start. By the end of the frame, Kingston had pulled ahead after a ricochet goal where Sam Schutt's off-the-mark shot hit Clarke and ricocheted into the net. Schutt — not to stick the knife any deeper in any fed-up Sudbury Wolves fan, but that team did trade him rather early — also scored in the second. Kingston's Mikko Vainonen-led defence made that lead stand up.
Oshawa 6 Mississauga 5, 2 OT (Generals lead 3-0, Steelheads host Game 4 on Thursday) — How big a red flag does the Generals giving up five goals to 'Sauga set off? The Gens got captain Josh Brown back, but had their hands full as the Steelheads shut up the know-it-alls (present company right at the front of line) by producing their best offensive performance since it traded overage Dylan Smoskowitz to Oshawa. Russian forward Sam Babintsev produced a hat trick, including a third-period tying goal after Brett Foy created a diversion in front of the goal.
It was only the second time since Christmas the Steelheads have scored five goals in a game. The first came against Sarnia, the league's worst team. It's possible the Generals, who won the opener 6-0, are simply having trouble convincing themselves they need to bring their A-game vs. a team they outpaced by 36 points. It hasn't exactly dominated the past two games, which might mean little or might confirm the opinions the Eastern Conference is really that weak.
It was an impassioned effort by Mississauga, which got 58 saves from Colorado Avalanche-drafted goalie Spencer Martin. Oshawa's Josh Sterk, the Kitchener Rangers castoff, ended it after 31 minutes 23 seconds of overtime.
Plymouth 2 Guelph 1 (Storm lead 2-1, Whalers host Game 4 on Wednesday) — Do the Whalers have another effort like that ready for the second of back-to-back games? Way to Britta Plymouth's good vibes after it held the OHL's highest scoring team since 1999 to just a singleton.
The Whalers ensured there will be at least a Game 5 back at the Sleeman Centre on Friday when overage Zach Lorentz untied the game with exactly 12 minutes left. There was nothing subtle about the approach: ride Nedeljkovic and keep the Storm out of the hotter score zones. Guelph, which took the first two games by an aggregate 8-2, simply had bad puck luck with one goal on 53 shots.
"They can get 100 shots as long as we’re the ones outworking them in the corners," Nedeljkovic told the Plymouth Observer & Eccentric.
Plymouth's Victor Crus Rydberg, a New York Islanders fifth-rounder, also had a nice night winning faceoffs. That helped the underdogs' cause.
Will the Storm's Brock McGinn face any supplemental discipline for his head-checking major-game misconduct? There was no injury on the play, so the Carolina Hurricanes pick might be in the clear. His absence left the Storm without two of its top scorers. On the plus side, Detroit Red Wings second-rounder Tyler Bertuzzi played his first game in 3½ months after dealing with a lingering head/neck injury. It is often curious how a player who's been out for an extended span makes more of an impact in his second or third game back.
London 10 Windsor 2 (Knights lead 3-0, Spitfires host Game 4 on Thursday) — Since Tuesday's additions to the annals of aberrant goalie behaviour have been covered off, a softball question is needed ... okay, who is London's are-we-really-taking-about-this-already early candidate for playoff MVP?
The 6-foot-5 defenceman Nikita Zadorov has been pretty hard to miss. The big man merely has five points in three games and is helping shut down Windsor's top lines. The Buffalo Sabres first-rounder also scored a beautiful short-handed goal on Tuesday.
London's other mammoth 18-year-old, Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Michael McCarron, has also asserted himself by using his 6-foot-6, 238-pound frame to better effect through all three games. McCarron presents a matchup problem for almost every team with his size.
Saginaw 7 Erie 6, OT (Otters lead 2-1, Spirit host Game 4 on Wednesday) — Who does Erie come back with in goal? How ironic the other team has a Team Canada tendy, Jake Paterson, when Erie faces a cord-cottage conundrum that calls to mind what seems to happen to the Maple Leaf every Christmastime. And the series is taking place near the self-proclaimed world's largest Christmas store. This stuff just writes itself.
Columbus Blue Jackets second-rounder Oscar Dansk was hooked after allowing five goals on 25 shots on Monday. In came the 18-year-old Devin Williams, who gave up a go-ahead goal with just more than five minutes left in regulation and was beaten in the overtime winner. So Erie has a 19-year-old goalie who's struggling and an 18-year-old who didn't get enough run to show he deserved to start Game 4.
The Spirit is half-dangerous whenever one of the lines that does not include captain Eric Locke heats up. Winnipeg Jets third-rounder Jimmy Lodge scored two goals in the third on Monday, for his first multi-goal effort in 3½ months. Erie's reasonable goal, with the series using a 2-3-2 format, is to get a split and have two chances to finish off Saginaw on home ice.
Sault Ste. Marie 5 Owen Sound 3 ('Hounds lead 2-1, Attack host Game 4 on Wednesday) — What's been the Soo's X factors in regaining home-ice advantage? Two things — having the uniquely skilled Darnell Nurse on defence and a careful approach to finding older forwards to take on the unsung but vital role of being complementary scorers.
Nurse has had five points during the Soo's two wins, giving the Edmonton Oilers first-rounder his first back-to-back multi-point outings all season. Please don't try to make a post-hoc argument that this proves he should have been on Team Canada over, say, Owen Sound's Chris Bigras, since it deprives Nurse of credit for the improvements he's made in the past three months. Plus the two third-year players have different skill sets.
Meantime, the 'Hounds have got contributions from 19-year-olds and overage forwards such as Jean Dupuy, Andrew Fritsch, Tyler Gaudet, Bryan Moore and Patrick Watling, who all played major junior in some other precinct before being brought to the Steel City. Who says you can't trade to prosperity?
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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