An intriguing championship series matchup is in the offing — a veteran Niagara IceDogs club against the youngish London Knights. The Knights swept the Kitchener Rangers for the first time since 1978 to reach the championship series. The IceDogs have earned triple match point after outlasting Ottawa 67's in yet another third period.
Niagara 5 Ottawa 2 (IceDogs lead Eastern Conference final 3-1) — Is the fact 3-of-4 games have been tied entering the third period give Ottawa a beacon of hope? It might not be. It could be a greater indicator that the IceDogs simply have faith their talent and depth will override and overwhelm whatever system and hot goalie their opponent can muster.
Detroit Red Wings prospect Petr Mrazek (39 saves on 43 shots) was superb on Wednesday, never more so when he made a split save on a Dougie Hamilton howitzer in the second period. Once the IceDogs levelled at 2-2 on captain Andrew Agozzino's second of the night early in the final frame, there was a sense they had taken over the game.
"Good teams win third periods," Agozzino said. "We haven't had good first periods in these past two games in Ottawa, but the thirds have been bailing us out. We keeping finding ways to win."
The amount of time Ottawa's top players are spending killing penalties might sapping their stamina. The vaunted IceDogs power play is 2-for-18 with three short-handed goals against, all by Ottawa's Dalton Smith.
"We're taking bad penalties, stick penalties, where we don't really need to," said 67's scoring leader Tyler Toffoli, whose third-period goal gave Ottawa a short-lived lead. "We're doing a good job but it's starting to catch up to us ... we have to bear down on our chances, that's where they're doing a really good job."
"We counted, as we always do, grade-A scoring chances," he said. "We both had four in the third period. They scored three on their four chances. Credit to them for finishing some plays. It's tough for our guys because the effort was there tonight.
Will the IceDogs avoid falling prey to overconfidence before Game 5? It is a valid question with a team which (a) let Oshawa back into its first-round series after winning the first two games and (b) fell behind 4-0 in the first period on Sunday. Winning Friday would mean having a weekend free for R&R before facing London, which could be invaluable. Perhaps the IceDogs have learned a lesson about handling prosperity.
"Everything matters so much at this time of year, it's a very exciting time of year and you have to keep your emotions in check," Agozzino siad. "It's an exciting time for guys such as myself, Alex [Friesen], Freddie [Hamilton], who have been here for a while."
Will Ryan Strome play on Friday? The New York Islanders first-round choice was limited to providing moral support after the first period, standing at the end of the bench after sustaining an undisclosed injury.
"He's day-to-day," Williamson said. "We'll check to see how he is tomorrow and go from there."
How much does Ottawa's escape from a 3-1 hole against Barrie play into this series? Probably not much. The Barrie Colts were banged-up beyond all repair. The IceDogs have their share of bumps and bruises, but are much deeper and also have two potential chances to close it out at home.
"We have to take it one period at a time," said Toffoli. "That's what we did a good job of against Barrie. I don't think they had lost a game in their rink [during the playoffs] and we were went in there and won. Hopefully we can pull through.
"It's a totally different team," the Los Angeles Kings prospect said by way of comparing scenarios. "They're a really good team in their own rink. We just have to play a full game and hopefully we can come through and bring it back to Ottawa."
London 4 Kitchener 2 (Knights win Western Conference championship 4-0) — In the final analysis, was beating Plymouth essentially Kitchener's championship? That's a harsh way to say they were gassed, eh? It happens in the playoffs. Sometimes it is tough to refocus and restart.
The Rangers had third-period leads in each of the first two games and dug three-goal holes in each of the final two. London was simply better:
From Josh Brown:
In the end, the club looked mentally and physically fatigued from an emotional seven-game semifinal series against the Plymouth Whalers. Couple that with a deep Knights squad, and it was just too much for the young Rangers squad to overcome.
But the ride should serve the young Rangers well. The future looks bright with a potential returning group that includes Gibson in goal, all-star defenceman Ryan Murphy on the blue line and Rieder and rookie sensation Radek Faksa up front.
"We have a lot of players with inexperience who just got a lot of playoff experience in their first years," said Spott. "You have to hope that is going to bode well for next year and years after that." (Waterloo Record)
The return of Matia Marcantuoni, who lost nearly his whole season to shoulder surgery, could also be like adding a free agent at no cost. There is some upside for Kitchener.
Not a bad evening for the brothers Hunter, eh? You might say that. The Dale Hunter-coached Washington Capitals eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Game 7 on an overtime goal by Owen Sound Attack alumnus Joel Ward. That came within a hour of Mark Hunter steering the Knights to the final, moving them one step closer to being the first team to win the league title after an in-season coaching change.
"We're getting better as we go along," said London captain Jarred Tinordi, who took the Wayne Gretzky conference champs trophy on a brief spin before re-joining his joyous teammates. "You look at us against Windsor, then Saginaw, and I think we played better against Kitchener than we did in the first two series.
"We wanted this and we know how badly the coaches want to win and it feels good to do something like this for them because they've done so much for us this year, and in past years.
"It's not everything we want to accomplish, but it's something special." (London Free Press)
The Knights, for what it is worth, split the season series against both Niagara and Ottawa. The road team won all four of those games.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.