Key cogs on either side were missing for this highly anticipated Western Conference showdown. The Whalers, sitting 2nd overall in the OHL were missing their power forward James Neal and on the Rangers side they were short their hired gun: Steve Downie. With a balance of star forwards like that missing from either lineup there was little in the way of excuses for either team in this matchup. Plymouth's last visit to the Aud in Kitchener left nothing to be desired in the way of gameday thrills. There was no reason for this game to be any different, and it wasn't. Departed captain: Jean-Michel Rizk sent the Whalers packing late in overtime with both teams running on empty tanks. In Plymouth the Rangers, and their star netminder: John Murray reigned supreme, with a 3-0 shootout that preceeded a rather long string of games for the Whalers where they achieved points, and quickly ascended to the top of the West division and nearly the top of the OHL standings overall.
No one expected an exceptionally high scoring
game, after all rookies: Michal Neuvirth and John Murray were near
the top of just about all netminding statistical categories on the way
into the game. Neither being typical rookies, playing in the final
year of their junior eligibility. Neuvirth was the first to steal
the spotlight, making 14 saves on 14 shots in the first period looking
like a seasoned veteran, and not shakey as he did during his last visit
to Kitchener. The two star netminders went through the enitre first
period posting zeros. There were a couple of other players matching
each other tit for tat. Big veteran winger: Victor Oreskovich was
going head-to-head with Jared Boll in the physical department as well.
Both bruising wingers were asserting themselves on any defenders who either
got in their way, or stayed imobile for even a brief moment while playing
along the boards.
The Whalers quickly broke the double-goose egg in the first minute of the second period. His shot from around the hash marks fluttered and finally beat John Murray, though Murray did have a piece of it for only for the puck to carry through him. The crowd would get a huge rise when Victor Oreskovich found himself on the boards during a rush only to send a picture perfect pass through the front of the crease and on to the stick of: Nick Spaling who slapped it past a diving Michal Neuvirth. The Rangers only continued to press late in the second and into the third period having the momentum from the Spaling goal. Aside from the fast pace of the game both teams continued with the big hits and netminders with the big stops. Adam Zamec's tripping minor was the last power play of the game, and it almost proved fatal for the Rangers. After some very good work along the boards Victor Oreskovich stripped the puck from the Whalers' defender, he attempted to dump the puck back to Dan Gyenes, but was a little heavy with the pass and it found its' way onto Tom Sestito's stick for what was the equivalent of a breakaway. Sestito faked and then beat Murray coming in on an angle and crossing the crease with little pressure.
With less than two minutes left in regulation the Rangers had some pressure and it forced defener Ryan McGinnis to take a holding minor at the side of the net, while playing with the delayed minor, Tsimikalis feed the puck out in front where a multitude of players including Mike Duco and Victor Oreskovich would try and get their sticks on it. In an invain effort to get the puck frozen McGinnis swated it towards his netminder but it carried into the net leading to a massive video delay, after the on-ice official did not notion a goal or non-goal. Eventually it was ruled that McGinnis did not have control of the bouncing puck and the game was tied. The eventual ruling frustrated the Whalers coaching staff who were quite vocal in their opposition. Overtime while dominated by the Rangers solved nothing. In the shootout the first five shooters failed to score, with Matt Halischuk looming at center ice the crowd got to its feet in anticipation of their best shooter winning the game. Halischuk didn't score, but after Murray stopped his fourth straight, Nick Spaling entered the contest. His wrister just barely squeaked through Neuvirth, similar to Jean-Michel Rizk's overtime winner to give the Rangers their first ever home ice shootout win.