Attack take Game 4 despite Opilka’s historic night in goal
It’s not often a goaltender is named Second Star of the game after being tagged for six goals.
But when you face 70 shots in regulation and still manage to make 64 saves, you sure as hell deserve it.
Such was the case for Kitchener Rangers’ goaltender Luke Opilka on Wednesday night, as the netminder saw 31 shots in the first period alone, 12 in the second and 29 more in the third.
The Rangers would drop Game 4 by a score of 7-4 to the Owen Sound Attack in front of 4,784 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, despite gaining the lead twice on the night.
The Attack now lead the best-of-seven series 3-1, with Game 5 set for Friday night, March 31st, at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre at 7:30pm.
Opilka was the hard luck – and hard work – loser in goal, but his effort kept the Rangers in the game until the dying moments of the third period with his team trailing 5-4. The seventh and final Owen Sound goal of the night was scored into an empty net with Opilka on the bench.
In Games 2, 3 and 4 of the series, the 19-year-old, St. Louis Blues prospect has faced no fewer than 41 shots each game. In those last three games, Opilka has made 145 saves on 155 shots. His save percentage in the last three games registers at an impressive 0.935%.
Michael McNiven once again picked up a win, but once again had nowhere near the workload of Opilka. The Attack netminder surrendered four goals on 15 shots through the first 40 minutes before turning aside five shots in the third.
Connor Bunnaman wasted little time making his return from a two-game suspension for slew-footing in Game 1 count, as he gave the Rangers an early 1-0 lead at 2:40 of the first period. Elijah Roberts and Joseph Garreffa picked up the assists on Bunnaman’s first goal of the postseason.
Past the midway point of the period the Attack squared things up at 1-1, as Petrus Palmu scored his third of the playoffs, from Nick Suzuki and Sean Durzi, at 13:39.
After killing off a high-sticking penalty with under four minutes to play in the opening period, the Rangers were dealt yet another high-sticking penalty just 12 seconds later. The Attack then capitalized with a go-ahead goal off the stick of Cordell James, making it 2-1 Owen Sound with Ethan Szypula and Durzi picking up the assists on the power play marker at 19:40.
The Attack skated into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead while outshooting the Rangers heavily, 30-5.
Riley Damiani tied the game, 2-2, just 29 seconds into the second period, tallying his first of the postseason from Darby Llewellyn and Jake Henderson after a nice second-effort on a rebound at the side of the goal.
On an ensuing Rangers power play the home team regained the lead, as Bunnaman scored his second of the night, from Damiani and Adam Mascherin, to make it 3-2 Kitchener at 4:54 of the middle period.
The next Rangers’ power play also proved to be a turning point, but just not in the way the home team had hoped.
It was Owen Sound who would break out on an odd-man rush while shorthanded and tie the game, 3-3, on an unassisted goal by Kevin Hancock at 9:15.
Just 47 seconds later – while on the same penalty kill – the Attack struck shorthanded once again, this time on the stick of Palmu who scored a wrap-around, lacrosse-like goal to take a 4-3 lead, from James at 10:02.
But with close to two minutes left to play in the second period the Rangers still showed life, and would tie the game once again on a beautiful play that all started from Dylan Di Perna.
The defenceman, who has played an undeniably physical series for the Blueshirts, took his man into the boards with a thunderous hit which elicited a huge roar from the crowd and also allowed the Rangers to regain possession of the puck.
Kitchener would break out of its own zone as Vallati sprung Jonathan Yantsis, who split two Owen Sound defenders and beat McNiven glove side to make it a 3-3 game. Dylan Seitz picked up the secondary assist on the goal at 18:20.
Shots on goal in the second period of play were 12-10 Owen Sound, for a two-period total of 42-15, Attack.
Palmu capped off the hat trick with his fifth of the postseason to again give the Attack the lead, 4-3. It was a power play marker – the fourth special teams goal for Owen Sound on the night – assisted by Nick Suzuki just 23 seconds into the final frame.
The Rangers appeared to be in some serious trouble as just over a minute and a half after the third Palmu goal gave Owen Sound the lead, the Rangers were called for slashing and cross-checking minors simultaneously, giving the Attack a full two-minute 5-on-3 man advantage.
Opilka faced six shots on the Owen Sound 5-on-3, many in tight and at difficult angles but the goaltender continued to keep his team in it, allowing Kitchener to escape unscathed from the man disadvantage.
It continued to be a one-goal game until just less than three minutes remaining in regulation, as Matthew Struthers scored his first of the playoffs, unassisted, at 17:10 to put Owen Sound up 6-4.
With Opilka on the Rangers’ bench in favour of an extra skater the Attack iced the victory, as Jonah Gadjovich scored his second of the series, from Suzuki and Hancock, at 18:43 to make it a 7-4 game.
Shots on goal in the third period were 29-5 Owen Sound for a game total of 71-20.
Kitchener was 1-for-5 on the power play, while Owen Sound was 2-for-5 with the man advantage while adding two shorthanded goals.
With three successful penalty kills, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $30 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally for a running total this season of $2,160 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Kevin Hancock (KIT) (3), Luke Opilka (KIT) (2), and Petrus Palmu (OS) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
Dylan Di Perna and Jake Henderson each wore an “A” and skated as alternate captains for the Rangers. Darby Llewellyn wore the “C” in the absence of Frank Hora.
If the Rangers win Game 5 of the series (Friday, March 31st at 7:30pm in Owen Sound) then a Game 6 will be played back at the Aud. If a Game 6 is to be played, tickets will go on sale immediately following Game 5 online only. If planning to purchase in person, tickets will go on sale Saturday at 10am at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Box Office or Centre in the Square [(519) 578-1570 -or- 1-800-265-8977].
Owen Sound Attack (3) vs. Kitchener Rangers (6) – Owen Sound leads series 3-1
Game 1 – Friday, March 24: Owen Sound Attack 9; Kitchener Rangers 1
Game 2 – Saturday, March 25: Kitchener Rangers 2; Owen Sound Attack 1
Game 3 – Monday, March 27: Owen Sound Attack 4; Kitchener Rangers 0
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 29: Owen Sound Attack 7; Kitchener Rangers 4
Game 5 – Friday, March 31: Kitchener at Owen Sound – 7:30pm
*Game 6 – Sunday, April 2: Owen Sound at Kitchener – 7pm – (note time change from 2pm)
*Game 7 – Tuesday, April 4: Kitchener at Owen Sound – 7pm