Give ‘em hell Rangers! Since the 2001-2002 season the Rangers and Otters have had a vicious and intense rivalry on the go. It all started on March 17th of 2000, names like Derek Roy, Steve Eminger and Scott Dickie were all rookies and at the midway point of the season the Rangers and Otters were in a dogfight for the Midwest division title in what was an extremely weak division that season. The Otters closed out the season with wins in Kitchener and in Erie and gained the division title, starting a 15-2 run over the Rangers that would culminate in Erie nearly two full years later with a Ranger win. Payback was the name of the game, the Rangers won 11 straight over the Otters and when unbeaten in 14 total against their bitter foes. And after three consecutive season-series wins by the Otters 1999-2002, the Rangers have taken the last three season series.’ Fortunately for the Rangers’ cause, they currently hold the upper hand on the Otters leading this season-series 2-0, but each win has been an adventure, and each game has simply electrified the standing-room only crowds in the third period. This time around it wasn’t an amazing comeback it was close call after close call in and around the Otters’ net where Josh Disher was nearly every bit as effective as he was in the opener of the 2005 playoffs where he held the Rangers to one goal through 5 periods. The last time the Otters’ came to town they had their starter: Josh Disher as a healthy scratch because of their overage situation, and they simply bombarded Rangers’ netminder Dan Turple with shots, this time around it was the Rangers turn to open up a shooting gallery on Josh Disher, 51 shots to be exact!
For the second straight game, Rangers’ netminding
had it easy in fact over the course of two full games, including a couple
of minutes of overtime the Rangers allowed a total of 39 shots, a radical
downturn from the ugly shot totals which were going against the Rangers
earlier in the season. The Rangers were beneficiaries for the most
part in terms of the officiating, the Rangers got two very long two-man
advantages, the results were less than desirable. The Rangers didn’t
score and they struggled to really get a quality scoring chance, while
the power play was at work fans quickly began to groan. Sure, the
Rangers managed to beat the lowly Mississauga IceDogs and their backup
netminder Aaron Barton, but the acid test was failing for the most part.
As few shots seemed to be finding their way to Josh Disher who certainly
did not make the job of Rangers’ snipers any easier. In typical hockey
fashion the Otters struck back after gaining the momentum from the penalty
kills, the Otters on their second power play Sean O’Connor took a rebound
and beat Dan Turple with it. The Rangers held the play while 5-on-5
but couldn’t really get their sticks on some loose pucks in the Otters’
zone in and around the Otters’ crease, credit the defenders for effectively
tying up sticks. Something unique happened in the second period.
Rangers’ resident tough guy: Boris Valabik who was on the ice for a pair
of power play markers on Tuesday, finally scored, after failing to connect
at all during the 2004-’05 season. Valabik did have 3 goals as a
rookie and also managed to get credit for a goal scored during the prospects
game that season. Valabik’s one-timer point blast first struck an
Otters’ defender before landing in the back of the net, bigger than being
his first goal in over 80 games, it was also the goal that tied the game
for the Rangers. Valabik also hurt an Otters’ defender with a point
blast that would have hobbled anyone who would be fool hearty enough to
get in the way.
The Rangers would take their first lead of the game at the midway point of the second period. Matt Auffrey came rushing into the zone and picked up a pass from Matt Lashoff. With the Otters killing a penalty, they iced the puck Dan Turple without the constraint of the two-line pass found Lashoff at the blueline, he gathered interest from those Otters who could get into the play dropping the puck back to Auffrey. Matt Auffrey’s wrister to the top corner had lethal accuracy, for him it was his 4th goal in only 6 games since joining the Rangers. Turple who’s puck handling skills have been suspect and quite obviously lacks the offensive pedigree that Scott Dickie had when he accumulated 10 assists in one season, Turple currently has three to his record this year. The Otters finally got their own two-man advantage later in the period. Valabik went to the box for holding and was followed by Kindl who took a boarding minor for punishing hit on Chris Greene who wasn’t treated overly well by the Rangers’ faithful that felt his lying on the ice was just a case of good theatre. McKinley and Blunden traded passes through the crease sending Turple coast to coast several times before Blunden finally slammed the puck home. And at that point it was obvious that the incumbent player of the week who had 11 points the previous week wasn’t going to slow down this week either. Give credit to Jakub Kindl and his breakaway pass to Yves Bastien, Kindl threaded the needle and Bastien turned on the jets illuding defenders but could not beat Disher.
The third period was packed with action and passion. Craig Voakes restored the Rangers’ lead early in the period on a power play, he slammed home the puck taking a cross-crease pass. The Rangers pressed for an insurance marker, even the fourth line had their chances, but couldn’t get the handle on the puck when necessary, several times the Rangers had the puck wobble precariously close to the glove line on the far side but didn’t have luck on their side. Mike Duco’s slapshot was amongst many that narrowly missed the top corners of the net. But the Otters’ had their hot hand at work. Michael Blunden stepped into a shot that caromed off of the inside of Turple’s leg and in - surely a goal that the Rangers’ netminder would have liked to have had back. Only seconds later the Otters’ appeared to have scored another, the goal light went on and the Otters celebrated, but according to the officials who conversed and quickly came to the decision that the puck did not cross the line. Rangers’ fans were quite vocal in their displeasure with officials: Ryan O’Neill and Darcy Burchell, at the top of their list of grievances would be the apparent hit from behind that Yves Bastien was victim of in the third period.
With overtime looming the Rangers elected to call their timeout with only 29 seconds remaining in an effort to prevent the Otters, a division rival from getting any points in the game. And a shootout? Sure the two teams did have two lengthy overtime games in the postseason, but in their last 58 meetings with the Otters, only one game resulted in a tie. Since March 11th of 1998, the Rangers lead the all-time series 30-27-1 since that point. Coincidentally that is since the Rangers and Otters started playing 8 games a season again each other. This game was hardly an exception to what has become the rule. Jake Heller was called for hooking and Mike Duco was the overtime hero. And for the 2nd time in three games the Rangers score all four of their goals on the power play.