Oh, what a difference a day makes.
The Kitchener Rangers scored five straight goals and played one of their most complete games of the season en route to a 5-4 regulation win over the first place Erie Otters in front of 6,513 fans at the Erie Insurance Arena on Saturday night.
The Rangers (37-10-5-0) had two-goal efforts from both Adam Mascherin and David Miller to hand the Otters (41-10-1-0) their first three-game skid of the season. The last time the Otters lost three in a row was December 9th, 2014, when the Rangers handed them a 7-4 loss at the Aud.
Kitchener trailed 2-0 after one period of play and 3-0 less than 30 seconds into the second, but showed resiliency and grit in their plight. Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn praised his team post-game in their dedication, and refusal to waver from the game plan.
“There were a lot of good things going on tonight, all around. A ton of guys elevated their game. In the first after losing Bracco, our guys did nothing but battle back.”
Van Ryn was alluding to the fact that Rangers winger Jeremy Bracco was called for a five minute major and a game misconduct for cross-checking with 4:22 remaining in the first period, which provided the Otters the ability to score both their second and third goals of the night on the ensuing power plays.
He prided his team on resisting further frustration and was happy with the way they responded after being down a teammate.
“We executed our game plan to a tee,” he said. “We were working hard out there and supporting each other, and we got rewarded for it with two points.”
The win, paired with the Erie loss and a London loss to Sarnia on Saturday sees the Rangers now tied with the Knights (with a game in hand) with 79 points apiece, and just four back of the Otters (83).
The Rangers had full control of the shot clock throughout the night, leading 11-7 after the first, 28-14 after the second, and 47-19 after 60 minutes. Kitchener was just one shot shy of their season high in shots (48) set back on October 16th at the Aud vs. the Owen Sound Attack.
Luke Opilka needed 15 saves to register his 25th win of the season (25-5-3-0), while Devin Williams was handed just his fifth regulation loss of the season (33-5-1-0), allowing five goals on 47 shots.
Dylan Strome opened the scoring for the Otters on a deflection at 6:07 of the opening period, assisted by Darren Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat. With Bracco called for the five minute major at 15:38, DeBrincat gave the Otters a 2-0 lead from Kyle Maksimovich and Strome at 19:33.
Before the first period ended, the Rangers were called for a slashing minor and with a 5-on-3 man advantage the Otters made it a 3-0 game on the stick of Raddysh, assisted by Strome and Maksimovich at the 25 second mark of the second.
From there, however, came the Rangers onslaught, as Miller would tally his first of the night at 8:04 after a nice tip on a Dylan Di Perna shot from the left point, with Darby Llewellyn picking up the second assist.
Mascherin would respond just 1:17 later, beating Williams for his first of the night, assisted by Gustaf Franzen and Mason Kohn to cut the Otters lead to 3-2 at 9:21.
Mascherin’s second of the night, and 29th of the season, would come at 16:26 to knot the game at 3-3. Kohn and Franzen would each once again pick up assists on the goal, as the Rangers trio was a presence at both ends of the ice over the entirety of the game.
Erie’s Nick Betz was called for tripping just 1:25 into the third period, and as the penalty expired Miller’s second of the game gave the Rangers their first lead of the night, 4-3, from Di Perna and Brandon Robinson at 3:26.
Miles Liberati would add to the Rangers lead, tallying his 13th of the season after a pretty pass from Llewellyn and Jake Henderson at 8:37 to put the Rangers up 5-3.
With Williams on the bench and the Otters net empty, Taylor Raddysh brought Erie to within one, from Darren Raddysh and Mitchell Byrne at 17:58, but 5-4 was as close as they’d come as the Rangers skated away with their first victory over the Otters this season.
The Rangers would finish 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Otters were 2-for-2 with the man advantage.
Mascherin (3), Strome (2) and Miller (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the Game.
Gustaf Franzen, Frank Hora and Brandon Robinson each wore ‘A’s and skated as alternates to captain Ryan MacInnis.
The Rangers are back in action when they take on the Bulldogs in Hamilton on Family Day, Monday the 15th at 2pm, then play their make-up game with the Owen Sound Attack from Tuesday, January 12th on Wednesday, February 17th at 7pm.
Tickets for the Rangers next home game, or any other future Rangers home games are available online at kitchenerrangers.com, by calling Centre in the Square, or through The Aud Box Office.