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Triumphant game for Rangers and fans
 


Eric Pfligler stacks the pads on David Herring. 
Picture Courtesy of: OHLPhotos.com


10 minutes after the conclusion of game #6 in Erie, a neutral observer would have concluded that the Otters were on their way to the next round of the playoffs, if nothing else, they were well on their way back to Kitchener to force a seventh and deciding game.  Neither was true, though with the atmosphere created in the arena after the Rangers had left the ice for their dressing room, and the lion's share of Rangers' fans were in the halls or on their ways out to waiting buses approximately 3,000 faithful Otters' fans took their time in saying goodbye to the Otters of 2004-'05 and officially welcoming summer time though the weather outside would beg to differ.  Those remaining 3,000 fans out of a third-consecutive non-sellout crowd of 4,331 (low by Erie's standards) started shaking the arena, chants of "LETS GO OTTERS" filled the arena as players started to show their appreciation for yet another record setting year at the Erie box office during the regular schedule.  Overage character players like Brian Lee, and David Herring in all likelyhood would never be seen at the Tulio again after this season.  Amongst controversies, non-goal calls, anger and vegance themes, Erie fans paused and chose to reflect and respect the efforts made by their Otters which nearly resulted in a second consecutive second-round playoff matchup with the London Knights.  With all of the dark clouds that hang over the world's most prominant hockey proffesional hockey league, these minutes at the conculsion of the Otters' season signified the many things that truely make hockey the best game on ice.

As in all game sixes, someone's back was against the wall, on this night it was the Otters.  Had it not been for a gutsy 3-2 comeback in the final minutes of their last visit to Erie it would have been the Rangers who would have been on the ropes or already eliminated.  Perhaps the flukey bounce off of the board which fooled Otters' netminder Josh Disher may have done irreparable damaged to the confidence of the netminder who easily would at series end be a prominent candidate for a player of the series award if there was such a thing.  The crushing 3-2 overtime loss in Erie, did not only hurt the confidence of the Otters, but it was also a crushing blow to the fans, because of it, the Otters struggled at the box office, and by game time only 4,331 tickets were sold, many of them belonging to Rangers fans whom had either braved the poor weather to travel in or rode on one of the 4 buses which came down to see the Rangers in their bid to eliminate the Otters.
 



Eric Pfligler stacks the pads on David Herring.
Picture Courtesy of: OHLPhotos.com

The game may have pivoted on events in the opening minutes.  Geoff Platt, the snake-bitten Otters' leading scorer, he put a good shot on Pfligler, picked up his own rebound and then proceeded to shoot wide of an empty net.  It was a tough series for the Otters' sniper who received lots of attention from some of the most rugged Rangers' checkers, infact during the third period the smack of his helmet across the crossbar of the Rangers' net could be heard throughout the Tulio, Platt made them pay by scoring late on the ensuing powerplay.  It was the Otters who got themselves into penalty trouble early in this matchup.  Late in a Blunden penalty, Platt broke into the Rangers zone and to the surprise of many Otters' fans was assessed a unsportsmanlike (diving) penalty on the play, extending his streak of diving penalties to 3 games.  The Rangers failed to score on the very abbreviated two-man advantage, official: Terry Hobor also felt the wrath of Otters fans after the call.  Later in the period the Rangers would finally connect on the powerplay with Andrew Hotham in the box for a slash across the wrist of David Clarkson.  Azevedo tipped Matt Lashoff's point shot through Disher only 26 seconds into the minor penalty, the goal gave the Rangers' their first lead in Erie in franchise playoff history.

In the second period infractions continued to mount up as a constant parade of Rangers and Otters proceeded to the sin bin.  While the Otters were on the man advantage early in the period, Brett MacLean was given a double-minor for spearing behind the playoff on the backend of the powerplay.  Mike Duco was shoved violently into Josh Disher prompting a second netminder interference penalty for the Rangers.  The ruling may have been that Duco made little effort to fall away from the Otters' netminder.  Regardless, the Rangers as they have been all season long are dangerous while playing 4-on-4 hockey and Andre Benoit a.k.a. "Captain Dangerous" while playing with 8 skaters on the ice, snuck in and chipped a rebound past Disher giving the Rangers the covetted two goal lead.  At the other end of the ice the Otters spent little time in capitalizing with public enemy #1 Boris Valabik serving a minor, only 6 seconds into the minor O'Marra had beaten Pfligler sending the Erie crowd into a absolute frenzy.  Valabik took an interference minor for slamming Platt's head into the crossbar so hard that the net came off, fortunately Platt was okay and returned for the powerplay.  Those cheers would be subdued by the Rangers who scored less than two minutes later, as Patrick Davis tipped Mark Fraser's point shot through Disher restoring the two goal lead.  Michael Richards also blasted a shot hard off of the post while on the powerplay in the second period, he also broke in shorthanded with some room to wind up and shoot, he was a constant concern for the Otters!
 


As is playoff tradition, players lineup at center ice to shake hands, congrats Rangers.
Picture Courtesy of: OHLPhotos.com

The Otters enjoyed three powerplays in the third period to the Rangers' one, but on the first two really failed to get the puck around the Rangers' net for chances to score.  Typically bruising defender: Boris Valabik was a catalyst in the Rangers' successes in penalty killing.  With time running out defender Boris Valabik took a cross-checking minor at the top of the Rangers' crease again the Otters struggled to score or create pressure.  Trying to copy the Rangers' example from a few nights early the Otters pulled their netminder late in the penatly, and Platt got even with the Rangers' defender and scored with 3:16 remaining in regulation to bring the Otters to within one and their netminder: Disher back into the crease where he belongs.  From that point on the Rangers put on a clinic refusing even entry to the Rangers' zone by standing them up at the blueline, Eric Pfligler even cleared the puck down to the center ice area.  In the final seconds the Rangers nearly filled them empty net, two seconds later the buzzer concluded the Otters' season.

The Rangers/Otters season series finished 9-5 for the Rangers with each team taking two wins in overtime in 14 games.  The Otters who were 2 for 11 on the powerplay scored both of their goals while Boris Valabik was in the Rangers' penalty box.  The Otters doubled up on the Rangers outshooting them 8-4 in the defensive-minded third period.  Eric Pfligler who has only started three playoff games in his career improved his record to 4-0.  Despite each team pulling their goalie on multiple occasions, neither allowed an empty net goal, while 3 were scored with the extra attacker.  The last time that the Rangers closed out a playoff series with a game 6 victory was back in the division finals of 1982 when they defeated the Greyhounds 9-3 in an eight-point series.  Andre Benoit and Michael Richards both led the point parade in the series with identical 3-7-10 totals, they were first and second stars of the game respectively.  After dropping the puck was unseasonably mild 20 degree celcius weather on Wednesday night in Erie, 4 busloads of Kitchener fans brought chilly snowy Canadian weather down with them on Saturday night.