The only thing to overshadow the Kitchener Rangers impressive comeback attempt in the third period Monday against the Hamilton Bulldogs was their collapse in the second.
Trailing 5-1 in the third period, the Rangers (37-11-5-0) would make it a 5-4 game with 8:15 to play, but failed to tally the equalizer as the Bulldogs (20-28-7-0) skated away with the 5-4 win in front of 7,163 fans at First Ontario Centre.
Darby Llewellyn scored twice, while Ryan MacInnis and Adam Mascherin each registered a goal apiece for the Rangers, who after a taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission surrendered four straight goals to the hosts, trailing 4-1 after 40 minutes.
“They had plenty of odd-man rushes, and it just came down to not paying attention to detail on our part,” said Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn. “I thought we played a great first period in only giving up three shots on goal. But we completely got away from our game in the second.
“We played another team’s brand of hockey instead of our own and it came back to bite us, like Friday versus Flint. I thought we learned from that, but apparently we didn’t.
“Certain guys played hard, but it definitely wasn’t a collective group effort today.”
Llewellyn echoed the sentiments of his coach, pin-pointing specifically the second period for the end result of the game.
“We were flat out awful in the second period,” Llewellyn said, post-game. “I don’t think there’s been a time where we started a game so well, then just took our foot completely off the gas in the second. We completely went into neutral.”
Kaden Fulcher (5-5-1-0) earned the win in goal for the Bulldogs, allowing four goals on 36 Rangers shots he faced. Dawson Carty got the nod in goal to start Monday’s game, but was pulled in favour of Luke Opilka in hopes of swinging the momentum the Rangers’ way just one minute into the second period after surrendering three goals on eight Bulldogs shots. Opilka (25-6-3-0) made eight saves on ten Hamilton shots, and was saddled with the loss.
After wins by both the Erie Otters (85 points) and the London Knights (81), the Rangers (79) now dip to fourth place in the Western Conference standings, with a game in hand on the Knights.
Llewellyn opened the game’s scoring with his 15th of the season, cashing in his own rebound to the right of Fulcher near the goal line at 19:01, from Frank Hora and Dylan Di Perna. The Rangers outshot the Bulldogs 11-3 in the opening frame.
The Bulldogs made it 1-1 after Matt Luff’s pass from the goal line towards the slot area deflected off a Rangers player and past Carty at 4:08 from Niki Petti and Matthew Strome. Luff was credited with his second of the afternoon after banking in a bouncing puck at the side of the net on the short side, with the assists to Jack Hanley and Petti at 6:40.
The Bulldogs would make it 3-1 after a shorthanded, 2-on-1 play finished off by Petti, from Luff and Jesse Saban at 10:28. The third Bulldogs goal would signal the end of the afternoon for Carty, who was replaced by Opilka.
The fourth Bulldogs goal of the period came with 1:43 left in the frame, as Trent Fox notched his 24th of the season from MacKenzie Entwistle and Saban at 18:17 to send the game into the second intermission with the Bulldogs carrying a 4-1 lead. Shots were 24-12 Kitchener after 40 minutes.
Luff opened the third period scoring by completing the hat trick, his 20th of the season, unassisted, at 2:49,
Llewellyn would respond with his second of the afternoon at the 3:42 mark, from Nick McHugh and Nick Magyar, cutting the Bulldogs lead to 5-2.
MacInnis made it 5-3 as his team continued to climb back, wiring a pretty shot to the top right corner, from Mason Kohn at 8:21.
Mascherin would make it a one-goal game with his 30th goal of the season from Miles Liberati and MacInnis at 11:45, but the Rangers were unable to capitalize on multiple chances over the tail-end of the third period to tie the game, including almost two minutes of 6-on-5 play with Opilka pulled in favour of the extra attacker.
Shots were 12-6 Kitchener in the third period, and 36-18, overall.
Both teams were 0-for-3 on the power play.
Petti (3), Llewellyn (2) and Luff (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 return to action Wednesday night, February 17th at 7pm when play their make-up game with the Owen Sound Attack from Tuesday, January 12th which was postponed due to poor weather conditions.
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.