|Rangers finally succumb to hot
netminding in the postseason
If you were to ask the Rangers about their playoff run thus far, they'd agree that veteran netminder: Scott Dickie has been the reason for several of the Rangers victories. The Rangers would also be quick to point out that they capitalized on their chances during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd round. The Rangers ran into something completely foreign in the opener of the OHL finals against the Ottawa 67's. For the first time in the postseason they outplayed their opposition and came out of the game with a short end of the straw falling 3-2 early in overtime. Lukas Mensator who has been accused of inconsistency was anything but on this night and he came close to walking away with only one goal against if it weren't for a Andre Benoit point blast (rather than his patented wrister) from the center of the blueline through traffic with just over a minute left in regulation. Benoit's goal which came only seconds after an offensive zone faceoff which took place after a Rangers' timeout where they seated Scott Dickie on the bench in favour of an extra attacker. The goal which barely snuck over the red line before being swatted away by Mensator sent the game into overtime and the season high crowd of 6,354 into an absolute frenzy!
The Rangers and 67's started the game with a flurry of opportunities. When the dust cleared it was 2-1 Ottawa, with the Rangers pounding a postseason high - 25 shots at the Ottawa net. Bryan Brickell and Evan McGrath (on the powerplay) each traded goals at the 5 minute mark. The powerplay goal for the Rangers seemed to help the team into a groove, the same could not be said about the 67's who looked thoroughly outclassed for the next 10 minutes before Sean Scully caught a luck bounce infront of Dickie which he redirected for his 3 goal of the postseason. The Rangers continued to rattle pucks off of netminder: Menastor right until the buzzer but they were unable to knot up the game during the first period.
The second period had more of the tight-checking play that the Rangers were familiar with from the Plymouth Whalers series, each team served two penalties and unlike in the first period , neither powerplay was at all dominant, each team struggled to gain the zone and with it any pressure. The Rangers in the second period often looked for and even tried to force the perfect pass. Mensator only proved to be dimunitive in stature but stood tall throughout the game. His lack of size did contribute to some anxious moments while Rangers shooters such as Michael Richards and Derek Roy wound up shots from the tops of the circles towars the long side of the net, infact Gregory Campbell grazed the outside of the post late in the third periods with one of these shots.
In the third period the Rangers appeared to
have altered their game plan. More dump and chase and forcing Mensator
to play the puck which nearly resulted in a goal derived from a miscommunication
with a defenseman on transition. The Rangers pressed throughout the
third for the tying goal perhaps the best chance was had by: Nathan O'Nabigon
who shot from the slot was just barely deflected wide. O'Nabigon
had the lion's share of the Rangers best scoring opportunities, but the
game 7 hero from the Conference finals found ways to get beaten by Mensator
who was simply having the game of his life. Adam Smyth the overtime
hero and recently converted defensemen scored late in regulation but after
the whistle because of an injury to Steve Eminger in the offensive zone.
Adam did it again in overtime taking a Scott Sheppard feed, and beating
The current scenario is good news and bad for the Kitchener Rangers. The bad news is that the Ottawa 67's will wise up, and start playing at a level much closer to what the Rangers are offensively just as the Rangers did against the Whalers, home advantage has now gone to the 67's, however the Rangers have been 6-1 on the road through the postseason so that shouldn't factor too much into the Rangers' plans. There are many pieces of good news for the Rangers to take with them to Ottawa, they shut down the OHL's dynamic duo of Corey Locke and Matt Foy, holding the two pointless through the course of the game. Probably the biggest news for the Rangers will be the return of game breaker Peter Kanko, who scored a hattrick in his last road game prior to being suspended for a game, after a supposed slewfooting incident in game 7 of the 3rd round. Kanko's sniper ability on a second line which has generated more than its share of opportunities will prove invaluable through the course of the series. Rafal Martynowski deserves much credit for stepping in on the Rangers' second line and helping them not miss a beat, he generated many scoring chances with crafty passes to both Richards and O'Nabigon. Marcus Smith who has been out since early in the 3rd round could return on Sunday night.
The Rangers will tell you that they're confident
because Lukas Mensator cannot possibly be capable of playing any better
for the 67's, the 67's will have you know they couldn't have played much
worse. Sunday's game in Ottawa should be another classic, game time
is 7:00pm on Rogers Sportsnet.
Special thanks to: Duct Tape
for the excellent game night photography.