A lesser team might have let their frustrations get the better of them after falling behind 3-0 in the first ten minutes of the first period – but not the Kitchener Rangers.
Brandon Robinson tallied a pair of goals – including the overtime winner – and added an assist at the Rangers claimed Game 1 of their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series vs. the Windsor Spitfires 6-5 in front of 5,941 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Thursday night.
Ryan MacInnis, who picked up the lone assist on the OT winner, also finished with two goals and an assist, while Jeremy Bracco notched three helpers of his own in the win to give the Rangers a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 is slated for Saturday, March 26th at the Aud at 7pm.
The Rangers and Spitfires twice went to overtime in the regular season, with the Spitfires claiming both victories.
After trailing early, it was resilience and special teams that proved most valuable for the Rangers, who finished the night 3-for-4 on the power play. Kitchener was 2-for-35 with the man advantage in their last ten games of the regular season.
Brandon Robinson explained the thought process of his team as they rode the rollercoaster of being down three goals, to twice taking one-goal leads prior to sealing the win in OT.
“Obviously a big key for us was to stay calm the whole time, even when we were down,” the overager explained. “It would be easy to lose focus when you’re down, but we got that first [goal] and our nerves settled down. Then we got the second one on the PP, and everything just came together from there. We got back to our game.
“We know every game and every shift there will be up’s and down’s, but we just took it one shift at a time tonight and that’s what we need to do moving forward.”
Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn was pleased with the effort by his team in Game 1, and was happy to see them rewarded with the win.
“Kudos to the boys, that was quite a comeback,” he told 570 News, post game. “It can be hard to start at home. Nerves come into play, and the pressure of playing well for our own fans. But I thought we were playing okay 5-on-5, even when we were down.
“The [power play] was huge for us tonight. We knew going in to tonight that lots of people were upset with how it was going, but as a group we always believed the guys on that unit would get the job done and tonight they did.
“I was real happy about a lot of things tonight.”
Despite Luke Opilka getting the start in goal for the Rangers, it was Dawson Carty who picked up the win. Van Ryn elected to switch things up in his crease after the first three Windsor goals came on seven shots, in hopes of getting a response from his team. Carty would finish the final 53:03 and stop 29 of 31 shots he faced in a solid outing.
Mario Culina was the starter for the Spitfires who shouldered the loss, despite making some impressive saves to keep the game as close as it was. Culina allowed six goals on 38 shots.
The Spitfires opened the scoring on a deflected Tyler Nother shot from the point, with Aaron Luchuk getting credit for the goal which came at 4:18 of the first period. Mads Eller picked up the second assist.
Windsor would take a 2-0 lead on the power play, after the Rangers were whistled for high-sticking at 5:48. Christian Fischer tallied his first of the postseason, from Brendan Lemieux and Mikhail Sergachev, giving the Spitfires the two-goal lead at 6:41.
Jalen Chatfield set up a screen in front of Opilka and the Spitfires would score off the draw at 9:36, with the lone assist going to Bradley Latour. Carty would then enter the game to replace Opilka.
The Rangers would get themselves on the board with a power play goal of their own at 12:58, as Robinson was left all alone in front of Culina and buried home the loose puck. Adam Mascherin and Bracco picked up the assists on the goal to cut the Spitfires lead to 3-1.
With just 1:30 left to play in the opening period, MacInnis scored his team’s second power play goal of the night cutting the Spitfires lead to 3-2, from Bracco and Miles Liberati.
At 18:56 of the period, Spitfires’ Lemieux was given a match penalty and five minute major for slew-footing Rangers defenceman Frank Hora at centre ice.
The Rangers would make good on the opportunity, scoring their third power play goal of the night at 2:39 of the second period on the stick of Gustaf Franzen, from Liberati and Bracco, tying the game 3-3.
Adam Mascherin would tally the Rangers fourth straight goal at 15:52 of the second period, giving the Blueshirts their first lead of the night from Dylan Di Perna and Connor Bunnaman to make it 4-3 Kitchener.
The Spitfires would respond before the period was over, however, as Logan Stanley would tie the game 4-4 at 18:22, unassisted.
Shots were 14-7 Windsor in the first period, and 18-9 Kitchener in the second for a two-period total of 25-23, in favour of the Rangers.
MacInnis would pot his second of the postseason just 3:51 into the third period, assisted by Robinson, to restore the Rangers one-goal lead, 5-4.
With just under five minutes to play the game was once again tied, as Latour evened things up for the Spitfires, 5-5, from Logan Brown at 15:02.
Shots were 13-10 Windsor in the third period, and 36-35 favouring the Spitfires at the end of regulation.
Robinson’s game winner – his second of the game – would come just 2:39 into the extra frame, assisted by MacInnis, to seal the 6-5 win for the hosts.
Final shots were 38-38, including 3-2 Kitchener in OT.
The Rangers finished the night 3-for-4 on the power play, while the Spitfires were 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
Jalen Chatfield (3), Brandon Robinson (2) and Ryan MacInnis (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the Game.
Frank Hora (who returned to the Rangers lineup after missing 11 games due to injury), Gustaf Franzen and Brandon Robinson each wore ‘A’s and skated as alternate captains to Rangers captain Ryan MacInnis.
Game 2 goes Saturday night at the Aud, and is also a 7pm start.
For tickets, call Centre in the Square at (519) 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, visit the Aud Box Office, or go to kitchenerrangers.com.
(4) Kitchener Rangers vs. (5) Windsor Spitfires
Best-of-7 Quarter-Final Series
Kitchener leads 1-0
Game 1 – Thursday, March 24th – Kitchener 6; Windsor 5 OT
Game 2 – Saturday, March 26th, 7pm at Kitchener
Game 3 – Monday, March 28th, 7:05pm at Windsor
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 30th, 7:05pm at Windsor
*Game 5 – Friday, April 1st, 7:30pm at Kitchener
*Game 6 – Sunday, April 3rd, 2pm at Windsor
*Game 7 – Tuesday, April 5th, 7pm at Kitchener