If there was ever a doubt, there is no more; the Kitchener Rangers (25-14-2-2) are officially on a roll.
Connor Bunnaman scored twice including the game-clinching goal in the fifth round in the shootout and also added an assist as the Rangers rallied to a 4-3 shootout win over the Windsor Spitfires (27-8-5-2) in front of 6,582 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday night.
The Rangers came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the third period to spoil the return of former Rangers forward Jeremy Bracco, who faced his former team for the first time on Aud ice and was held pointless with a plus/minus of minus-2.
His former roommate and linemate, Adam Mascherin, extended his lead in the OHL’s point race by scoring the game tying goal, 3-3, with just 1:11 to play in regulation to send the game to extra time. Mascherin (74 points) now leads Erie’s Alex DeBrincat (71) by three points overall. The goal also extends Mascherin’s point streak to nine straight games (3G, 15A = 18 Pts).
While the overtime period and shootout were exciting, the game would never have gotten that far if it weren’t for the outstanding play of both goaltenders; Kitchener’s Luke Opilka and Windsor’s Michael DiPietro.
Both delivered saves that were both high in quality and quantity, as the two teams combined for 89 total shots on goal through regulation and overtime.
Opilka skated away the winner, improving his record to 8-7-1-1 while making 42 saves in regulation, another two in overtime, and stopping all five shots he faced in the shootout.
DiPietro (20-6-4-1) was also stellar in the losing effort, surrendering three goals in regulation and one in the shootout, finishing the night with 39 saves (along with four in the shootout).
Jalen Chatfield gave Windsor a 1-0 lead just past the midway point of the opening period, tallying his seventh goal of the season – from Aaron Luchuk and Jeremiah Addison – at 12:19.
Addison’s 18th of the season made it 2-0 Spitfires, as he and Luchuk picked up their second points of the game with the goal and assist, respectively, with Logan Stanley earning the second assist at 15:21.
It was a scoreless second period, but not without its many chances for goals from either side. Opilka was tested and came up big with a handful of point-blank saves near the midway point in the period.
200-feet away DiPietro was busy committing larceny of his own, as the netminder came up with a number of seemingly impossible saves on Mascherin and his teammates.
Shots after the first period of play were 16-9 Windsor, and 20-13 Spitfires in the second for a two-period total of 36-22.
Bunnaman would finally get the Rangers on the board in the third period, beating DiPietro for his 22nd of the season from Greg Meireles and Frank Hora at 7:54.
With just over five minutes to play Darby Llewellyn netted the equalizer to make it 2-2 at 14:27 with Nick McHugh picking up the lone assist.
The cheers were short lived, however, as Luke Boka restored the one-goal lead, 3-2, for the Spitfires just 26 seconds later, from Christiano DiGiacinto and Chatfield at 14:53.
With just 1:11 left on the clock, Mascherin tallied his 28th of the campaign which would eventually send the game to extra time, assisted by Cole Carter and Bunnaman at 18:49 to make it 3-3.
The Rangers took command of the shot clock in the third period, outshooting the Spitfires 20-9.
After a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime solved nothing, the game headed to overtime where the Rangers shot first.
Mascherin (X), Joseph Garreffa (X), Llewellyn (X) and Riley Damiani (X) each failed to score before Bunnaman scored the clincher in the fifth round.
Gabriel Vilardi (X), Logan Brown (X), Bracco (X), Luchuk (X) and Adam Laishram (X) were all stopped by Opilka, who also made two stops in the overtime frame.
Final shots on goal were 47-42 Spitfires.
Kitchener would finish 0-for-4 on the power play while the Spitfires would go 0-for-2 with the man advantage.
With two successful penalty kills, Heffner Lexus Toyota graciously donates another $20 to the Heffner Lexus Toyota PK Tally for a running total this season of $1,400 in support of Sun Life Financial Kids in Gear.
Connor Bunnaman (KIT) (3), Jalen Chatfield (WSR) (2) and Adam Mascherin (KIT) (1) were selected as the Three Stars of the Game.
Dylan Di Perna and Darby Llewellyn each wore an “A” and skated as alternates to Rangers captain Frank Hora.
The Rangers are back in action on Friday, January 20th when they host their divisional rival and Highway-7 counterpart, the Guelph Storm, at 7:30pm.
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.