Battalion Pushed to Brink
NORTH BAY, Ont. - Philip Tomasino scored one goal and had two assists to pace the Niagara IceDogs to a 5-3 victory Thursday night over the North Bay Battalion in a wild first-round Ontario Hockey League playoff game.
Niagara leads the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal 3-1 with the fifth game scheduled at St. Catharines at 7 p.m. Friday. It will be televised nationally on Rogers Sportsnet and can be heard on Country 600 CKAT.
Jack Studnicka and Oliver Castleman each had one goal and one assist and Drew Hunter and Elijah Roberts, into an empty net, also scored for the second-place IceDogs. Goaltender Stephen Dhillon made 23 saves.
Luke Moncada, Brad Chenier and Theo Calvas scored for seventh-place North Bay, which netted two goals 37 seconds apart late in the third period to cut Niagara's lead to 4-3. Goaltender Christian Propp faced 47 shots, including a penalty shot, before a Memorial Gardens crowd of 2,288.
"We had our chances, but came up a little bit short in the end," said assistant coach Adam Dennis of the Battalion, which will try to necessitate Game 6 on home ice Sunday. "But we're not done. We have another game and we're going to bring our best. We broke through at the end. We'd like to do it a little bit sooner and make sure we're ready to start on time tomorrow. "
The Battalion's Luke Burghardt was off for tripping when an Ivan Lodnia pass caromed off Tomasino and slid to defenceman Hunter, who had pinched deep and whipped the disc home from the left-wing circle at 9:50 of the first period.
Studnicka capitalized at 10:55 with another power-play goal as Justin Brazeau served a high-sticking call made after he retaliated to a similar infraction by Roberts in front of the Niagara net.
The Troops, who were outshot 12-9 in the period, had two power-play opportunities and, while they failed to generate a scoring chance with Ben Jones off for slashing at 16:20, they had two chances in the last minute with Matthew Philip in the box for tripping. Burghardt drilled the puck off the crossbar, and Matthew Struthers shoveled a loose puck into a prone Dhillon.
Tomasino made it 3-0 at 6:25 of the second period when he broke past Calvas at centre ice and outraced a sprawling Simon Rose to score on a forehand deke.
Moncada answered at 15:10 with his first OHL playoff goal, banking the puck off Dhillon from behind the goal line to the goaltender's left. Daniel Walker and Nick King drew assists.
Referee Joe Celestin awarded a penalty shot to Akil Thomas, who dove to implicate the pursuing King on a break-in at 12:57. Thomas put the subsequent shot off the right post.
A melee occurred at 19:00 after Walker, impeded and held by Dhillon in getting upright to rejoin the play, pummeled the goaltender.
Various IceDogs rushed to his rescue, with a slew of penalties incurred. Dhillon and Castleman drew roughing minors, Tomasino received a fighting major and Jacob Paquette was assessed a misconduct to account for the Niagara penalties. For the Battalion, Walker was handed a double minor for roughing, an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and a misconduct, while Rose received a fighting major and Calvas a misconduct, all of which gave the IceDogs a two-minute power play.
The eruption seemed inevitable after Celestin and partner Jason Faist lost command of the game by virtue of their gullibility in the face of Niagara dives.
Castleman ripped a Tomasino feed high over Propp's glove from the slot at 15:56 of the third period before the Troops staged a late comeback attempt.
Propp was on the bench for a sixth skater when Chenier connected at 18:43, converting from deep in the left circle off a faceoff. The goal was Chenier's second of the series.
Propp went back to the bench, and defenceman Calvas cut the deficit to one goal at 19:20. Burghardt won a neutral-zone faceoff and sent the puck to Calvas, who beat Dhillon to the glove side from the right circle off a rush.
Dhillon denied the Battalion's best chance to tie the game when he snared a King drive from the left circle, and rearguard Roberts finished the scoring into the empty net at 19:43.
The game was delayed for 10 minutes at 11:44 of the third period after Philip fell and was cut across the eyebrows by a skate in front of the Niagara net. Philip received attention from trainers from both teams before leaving the ice on a gurney.
BATTALION BULLETS: The game was sponsored by Callander Bay Dental Centre in support of its 'Smiles for Life' teeth-whitening campaign in conjunction with the Nipissing Association for Disabled Youth ... The crowd was the smallest for a Battalion home playoff game at North Bay. The previous low of 2,302 was set Tuesday night, when Niagara won 6-0 ... The Battalion has a won-lost record of 12-21 in the fourth game of a playoff series, including 6-13 at home ... The penalty shot was the first against the Battalion in the playoffs since April 6, 2012, when Brampton goaltender Matej Machovsky stopped Brett Ritchie at Niagara in the opening game of a conference semifinal. The Troops have neither scored nor allowed a penalty-shot goal in postseason play ... North Bay went 0-for-8 on the power play. Niagara was 2-for-7 ... Opening lines featured Struthers centring left winger Chenier and right winger Brazeau, Mason Primeau pivoting left winger Burghardt and right winger Mitchell Russell and Moncada centring left winger Walker and right winger Brandon Coe. Cameron Peters centred left winger Harrison Caines and right winger Patrick Brown ... The Battalion again was without Pacey Schlueting, Travis Mailhot and Kurtis Evans ... Niagara was without Jonah De Simone, Kirill Maksimov and Jake Uberti, who was scratched in favour of Swiss import Kyen Sopa, who made his OHL playoff debut.
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