March 24, 2016

67's, IceDogs set for fifth playoff battle in eight years

To anyone not familiar with the Brian Kilrea era, it's tough to explain how much the 2009 playoffs hurt for 67's fans; picture the worst third-period, game 7 collapse you can imagine, and add on the fact that it ended the coaching career of a legend.

The 2009 heartbreak wasn't even the start, nor end, of the playoff rivalry that's festered between the IceDogs and the 67's -  Adam Smyth elbowing then-Mississauga IceDogs superstar Patrick O'Sullivan in the head in the 2003 playoffs probably started it.

But the Hockey Gods decided that that vicious series, a five-game Ottawa win that resulted in 50 games worth of suspensions, wasn't enough.  And that upon the IceDogs move to St. Catharines in 2007, these two franchises would conjure up enough animosity to create one of the more hard-fought playoff rivalries in the OHL.

Having met in the postseason four times in seven years prior to this matchup, Niagara-Ottawa has seen a bit of everything.

Corey Cowick scoring a series-finishing goal without actually putting the puck in the net.

Sam Studnicka receiving a late penalty for a broken visor, all but sealing a 67's comeback hope.

Mark Visentin scoring a goal from behind his own net.

Marty Williamson pandering to the officials over crowd noise.

Trent Mallette chasing Josh Ho-Sang around the ice for five straight games.

Vince Dunn fighting Mallette in the Ottawa bench.

And Andrew Agozzino, already the easiest player for opponents to hate, scoring 13 seconds into overtime to cap off a late game 7 comeback, ending Killer's career behind the bench.

That's just playoff meetings, not to mention any natural tension that might arise from the son of the 67's bench boss not reporting to Williamson and the IceDogs prior to the 2014-15 season.

It can't be easy to top that, but you never know with these two teams.  

Middleton & Mallette's matchups:

Jake Middleton doesn't want to put himself on a pedestal atop the Barberpoles' blueline depth chart, but he acknowledges Jeff Brown's tendency to constantly throw out the top pairing, Brown himself admitting in last year's series that he "went to the well a bit too much" with Middleton.

"Even though it is top-heavy, we all do our jobs, our defence core is solid through all three pairings," says Middleton.

"It's something special, I've only played two playoffs and only played one team, but we're not worried about who we're facing."

Assuming Middleton shadows Niagara's line of Anthony DiFruscia, Jordan Maletta and Brendan Perlini, Trent Mallette will probably be on Josh Ho-Sang's tail again all series.

They can't be missed; they wear the same number, they're the two fastest players on the ice and they're two very unique players in their own regard, and they had a couple fun-to-watch battles in the 2015 postseason.

Players to watch (via Kathryn Jean):

·         Jake Middleton – Though he only has 6 games of playoff experience, the LA Kings’ prospect has emerged as the leader and has been an anchor for this Ottawa team. He will eat a lot of minutes throughout this series and will need to be ready.
·         Stepan Falkovsky – This will be a big test for the rookie. He had his ups and downs this season but is starting to earn more trust from the coach. His long reach and size will be a great value to Ottawa this series. He will also see a lot of ice time and the NHL Draft eligible will look to impress.
·         Dante Salituro – Salituro is the go to guy offensively since Travis Konecny was traded mid-season. Salituro has 15 goals and 21 assists in the last 27 games since the trade deadline. He comes into the playoffs with a 5-game goal streak (6G 3A). He performed well last playoffs with 5 goals and 5 assists through 6 games.
·         Artur Tyanulin – Since being placed on a line with Nathan Todd and Travis Barron, Tyanulin has played lights out. He has been one off Ottawa best players over the last 10 games and is on a 6-game goal streak (9G, 3A).
·         Jeremiah Addison – He was one of Ottawa’s best players against Niagara in last season’s playoffs with 6 goals and 4 assists through the 6 games. He will be looked to this year as a solid two-way player and contribute offensively.

·         Alex Nedeljkovic – Nedeljkovic hasn’t played as well as some would think since returning from the World Juniors, but looking at some of Niagara’s terrible efforts this season – he wasn’t getting much help from the team in front of him. He will be a backbone for the team and expect to see him play well.
·         Brendan Perlini – Perlini has had a rough season and hasn’t looked his best consistently including a less than superb performance at the World Juniors. If Perlini can turn it on, with that quick release of his, he will be one to watch. He played well against the 67’s last season and into the second around. He lead his team in goals with 7 goal and 12 points through 11 games.
·         Josh Ho-Sang – Known as the enigma of the team, Niagara will need Ho-Sang to be on his game. He emerged as his team’s leading scorer in the playoffs last season with 16 points in 11 games. At top speed, he is hard to catch and his vision and playmaking abilities make him very dangerous.
·         Jordan Maletta – Fresh of inking a new deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Maletta was one of Niagara’s best players consistently this season. He will be looked to as a leader going forward and will have a lot of motivation for a long post-season run in his overage year.
·         Vince Dunn – Returning from injury, Dunn will eat a lot of ice-time. He has been solid offensively all season and one of Niagara’s better d-men through last post-season with 6 goals and 10 points in 8 games.

By the numbers:

Alex Nedeljkovic career vs. Ottawa: 7-0-0, 1.57 GAA, .948 save%, 1 assist
Alex Nedeljkovic 2015-16: 24-20-4, 2.97 GAA, .907 save%, 2 assists

Leo Lazarev career vs. Niagara: 1-1-0 (one no-decision), 3.23 GAA, .884 save%
Leo Lazarev 2015-16:  26-16-1, 2.80 GAA, .901 save%

Season series: Niagara (3-1-0-0, 15 goals for, 11.8% on the powerplay), Ottawa (3-1-0-0, 11 goals for, 19% on the powerplay)

Leading scorers: Josh Ho-Sang (82 points in 66 games), Dante Salituro (83 points in 65 games)

Head-to-head faceoff leaders: Graham Knott (61.7%), Nathan Todd (68.7%)

2015 playoff leaders:  Josh Ho-Sang (16 points in 11 games), Jeremiah Addison & Dante Salituro (10 points each in 6 games)


Kathryn: Niagara in 6 
Niagara is the deepest team in the league and the for sure favourite … on paper. The star studded lineup should have no problem with the Ottawa 67’s who has less pure talent and significant less playoff experience as a whole. But Niagara hasn’t performed to their capability on a regular basis this season. In fact, they have been pretty inconsistent and often depending on Nedeljkovic to bail them out defensively. Ottawa has also been inconsistent, trading off good months for bad months all season. Both teams come in with some of the best records in the last 10 games which is something that can help a great deal going into the playoffs.  If Ottawa can get into Niagara’s head and capitalize on their opportunities, they can surprise some people.
Sophie: Ottawa in 7
Ottawa's due to beat Niagara in the playoffs and they're due to finally beat Nedeljkovic.  Lazarev will have to stand on his head to make it an interesting goaltending dual, but if he can push them to a seventh game, which neither goalie has played in before, anything can happen.
Alex: Niagara in 7 
Ottawa is playing with house money and bought themselves a longer contending window with the Konecny/Studnicka trade, which is good because they've done nothing to improve their defence.  Brown may coach a tighter system than Williamson, but they can't contain Niagara's offence for an entire series.

Game 1 @ Niagara (Tonight, 7pm)
Game 2 @ Niagara (Saturday, 7pm)
Game 3 @ Ottawa (Monday, 3pm)
Game 4 @ Ottawa (Wednesday, 7pm)
Game 5 @ Niagara (Friday, 7pm, if necessary)
Game 6 @ Ottawa (Saturday, 7pm, if necessary)
Game 7 @ Niagara (Tuesday, 7pm, if necessary)

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