Before heading into Friday’s game, the Kitchener Rangers were of the mindset that they’d finally beat the big, bad London Knights; and do it with people watching from coast-to-coast.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, that win will have to wait for another day.
The Knights (36-9-3-4) took their first lead of the night in the third period, then added two empty net goals to deflate the Rangers (28-21-2-2) in front of 7,271 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, and many more over the airwaves in a game which was broadcast nationally on Rogers Sportsnet Ontario, East, West and Pacific.
The loss now extends Kitchener’s losing streak to 12 games against their heated divisional rival, dating back to last season’s playoffs and regular season.
The Rangers led twice, but the Knights kept battling back, with the power play being a major factor. The Knights, who came in with the league’s third ranked road power play (22.7%) went 50% on Friday, scoring twice on four opportunities with the man advantage.
On the flip side, the Rangers had the opportunities with the extra man but just couldn’t make them count, finishing the night 0-for-5.
Luke Opilka (10-13-1-1) was busy in goal for the Rangers, making 35 saves despite allowing three and taking the loss.
With Tyler Parsons out of the Knights lineup with an upper body injury, Tyler Johnson (10-3-0-0) got the start in goal and earned the win, allowing two goals on 32 shots.
Joseph Garreffa had an impressive showing for the Rangers in front of the bright lights of national television, drawing – then scoring on – a shorthanded penalty shot in the first period, then setting up the other Kitchener goal with a pretty feed on a 2-on-1.
The penalty shot goal was, in fact, what opened the scoring on Friday. With the Rangers shorthanded in the first period, Garreffa danced into the offensive zone but was stripped of the puck due to Johnson throwing his stick. A penalty shot was awarded and Garreffa made good on the opportunity with a dazzling goal, giving the home side a 1-0 lead, shorthanded, at 16:31.
First period shots on goal were 10-10.
The Knights were once again on the power play in the second period, and this time they would be the team to capitalize. With one second remaining on the man advantage, Dante Salituro evened things up, 1-1, from Mitchell Stephens and Olli Juolevi at 8:54.
Garreffa was once again in the thick of things and generating opportunities for the Rangers, this time teaming up on an odd-man rush with Darby Llewellyn. Garreffa fed Llewellyn, who banked in his 17th of the season to restore the Rangers lead, 2-1, at 13:08.
But before the second period was out the Knights again tied the game – once again on the power play – as Cliff Pu potted his 28th of the season, from Mitchell Vande Sompel and Sam Miletic, to make it a 2-2 game at 18:43.
Second period shots on goal were 18-11 London for a two-period total of 28-21 Knights.
Third period scoring opened with Salituro burying his second goal of the game on a Knights 2-on-1, giving London its first lead of the night at 7:10 – the eventual game winner – from Robert Thomas and Liam Foudy.
With just over five minutes to play Salituro would take a hooking penalty, and 44 second later Stephens was called for slashing, which gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:16 with 4:25 left on the clock.
The Rangers generated some chances but were unable to capitalize with the two-man advantage, so with 1:35 remaining Opilka headed to the Kitchener bench in favour of an extra attacker. Pu scored his second of the night just 32 seconds later from Thomas and Brandon Crawley at 18:57, then Alex Formenton cemented it with his 13th, unassisted, also into the empty net with two seconds left to play.
Third period shots on goal were 12-10 Knights for a game total of 40-32 London.
Kitchener was 0-for-5 on the power play, while the Knights were 2-for-4 with the man advantage.
With two successful penalty kills, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $20 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally, which is at a running total of $1,620 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Mitchell Stephens (LDN) (3), Joseph Garreffa (KIT) (2) and Dante Salituro (KIT) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
Dylan Di Perna and Llewellyn each wore an “A” and skated as alternates to Rangers captain Frank Hora.
The Rangers close out the weekend when they host the Sarnia Sting on Sunday, February 12th at 2pm.
Regular season tickets to Kitchener Rangers home games are $22.50 each for adults, $18.50 for children 12 and under, including HST and are available in person or by calling the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Box Office or Centre in the Square (519) 578-1570 -or- 1-800-265-8977, or by purchasing online.