February 21, 2012

67's Clinch Playoff Berth with 2-1 Win In Kingston

Tyler Toffoli had a goal for the seventh straight game, Cody Ceci scored his third goal in as many games and Shane Prince increased his point streak to 18 games to match his jersey number, but today wasn’t about the individual stats, as the Ottawa 67’s won 2-1 to mathematically clinch a spot in the 2012 playoffs. To go along with the playoff guarantee, Ottawa moves ahead of the idle Niagara Ice Dogs for first in the Eastern Conference.

Ottawa had a very shortened, banged up lineup as they headed to Kingston to take on the rival Frontenacs on Family Day. To go along with indefinite injuries to John McFarland, Ryan Shipley and Shayne Campbell, as well as a lingering injury to Jake Cardwell, the 67’s lost Daniel Broussard and Taylor Fielding to lower-body injuries in yesterday’s win over Erie.

The 67’s did, however, have a number of supporters making the short trip to the K-Rock Center. They had plenty to cheer about just 3:41 into the first period, as Mike Cazzola set up Ceci for his 14th goal of the season. Cazzola made a nice play five minutes later, winning the faceoff to himself and setting up Toffoli, who scored his league leading 45th goal and 88th point, also leading the league, as Ottawa took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Nathan Cull cut into Ottawa’s lead with a powerplay marker for Kingston. The goal was followed by a goaltending clinic from Igor Bobkov and Petr Mrazek, who made 33 save apiece and many impressive stops along the way. Mrazek shut the door for the final 35 minutes as the 67’s held on to win 2-1.

Now, the 67’s have 11 games to put an exclamation point on the regular season, and a conference title would certainly be a nice feather in the cap. At this point last season, Mississauga was a near lock to win the conference, while this year, the 67’s obviously have a good shot at winning the East. The Ice Dogs do hold a game in hand, however.

There may be a bit of scoreboard watching in the near future for 67’s fans. Not only are the Ice Dogs breathing down Ottawa’s neck, but as last year proved, you can never underestimate a first-round opponent, no matter how high you are in the standings. Barring some sort of horrible collapse by the 67’s or another top-five team, Ottawa will find themselves playing one of the following four teams in the first round

Oshawa Generals (67's win season series 4-2): While the 67's may have won the season series, this is one team that many Ottawa fans are hoping to avoid in the first round. Their big defence can be intimidating, and when the referees become more lenient in the playoffs, the Gens will not be assessed as many late-game momentum-killing penalties, which are costing them a lot of games thus far. Boone Jenner is the kind of guy who can get under your skin and dominate a seven-game series.

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors (67's lead season series 2-1, 1 game remaining): Even when St. Mikes was dominating the conference last year, Ottawa split the season series with them. Even in the one game that Mississauga did beat the 67's this year, Ottawa outshot the Majors by a near 2-to-1 margin and goaltender JP Anderson held them in the game. Small problem for St. Mikes; Anderson is in Sarnia now.

Belleville Bulls (67's win season series 7-1): The ideal playoff matchup for Ottawa. All due respect to draft-eligible Brendan Gaunce and Jordan Subban, but when your two best players are in their draft year, it shouldn't be too hard for a team with Ottawa's experience to send them packing. Even on the big ice in Belleville which should offer a real home advantage, the Bulls can't seem to keep up with Ottawa's speed. Imagine if the 67's played on international ice at home!

Peterborough Petes (67's win season series 5-3): This one may not seem tough, but Peterborough has given the 67's fits as of late, most recently coming back from three goals down to win on Saturday afternoon. Andrew Yogan and Lino Martschini have torn the 67's apart this year, but Ottawa's offence still manages to put up goals against the Petes. Ottawa won the first four matchups, however, so if they could do that again in the post-season, they're set.

Much alike the Vancouver Canucks or Boston Bruins in last year's NHL playoffs, the first round may be the toughest challenge. A big win in the mental block of a first-round over a pesky underdog may be all it needs to get the ball rolling.

No comments: