IceDogs clinch playoff spot; will face Brampton in first round

David Burnham- Brock Press

David Burnham- Brock Press

The Niagara IceDogs (24-35-9) finished their regular season in great fashion with wins against the Mississauga Steelheads (24-38-6) and Peterborough Petes (32-30-6) this past weekend.

Niagara’s second last regular season game was one of the most exciting games in recent time as the IceDogs stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Steelheads 5-4 in a shootout.

Heading into the game, Niagara was only one point ahead of Mississauga in the standings as four teams were battling it out for the last two playoff spots; Niagara, Mississauga, Ottawa and Belleville.

The home game was very important for Niagara to win, as it would make them one step closer to securing a playoff spot, with Mississauga close to them in the standings.

Niagara opened the game strong but Steelhead goaltender Spencer Martin stood tall, making two great saves within the first three minutes of the game. Martin was drafted 63rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and proved why he deserved to be early.

After Martin kept the game scoreless, his teammate Sam Babintsev (Moscow, Russia) deflected in his 10th goal of the season to give the Steelheads a 1-0 lead seven minutes into the game.

Things became worse for the IceDogs when their leading scorer Carter Verhaeghe (Waterdown, Ont.) took a viscous four-minute penalty for high-sticking at 16:28 of the first period.

Fortunately for Niagara they didn’t score on the power play and the period ended 1-0 for the Steelheads with Niagara holding a 16-12 shot advantage.

After receiving a four-minute high sticking penalty earlier in the period, Verhaeghe’s night came to an end when he received a five-minute major for hitting from behind along with a game misconduct for the incident.

After killing off the five-minute major, Babintsev tipped in another point shot to give the Steelheads a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. Minutes later, Babintsev completed his natural hat-trick scoring on a nice one-timer from Lucas Venuto (Mississauga, Ont.).

With a 3-0 lead after two periods of play, the Steelheads looked to be in total control of the game and en route to a huge road victory. However, the IceDogs had a different mindset when Eric Ming (Williamstown, Ont.) scored at 8:06 in the third period to make the game 3-1.

Niagara native Brett Foy scored just over a minute later to quiet the crowd and regain the three-goal lead for Mississauga. After the goal was scored, Niagara goaltender Brent Moran (Orleans, Ont.) was replaced by Blake Richard (Hamilton, Ont.), which really seemed to spark the club.

Captain Luke Mercer (Toronto, Ont.) and Ming scored nine seconds apart to cut their deficit to only one goal with over seven minutes remaining in the game.

As the game was winding down, Niagara continued to pressure the Steelheads’ Martin and came very close to scoring. With only minutes remaining, Ming rang the post and Niagara continued to get many other chances on net to score.

Finally, with only 41 seconds left in the game, Ming scored his hat-trick goal to tie the game and as a result, with it being toque night at the Gatorade Garden City Complex, hundreds of toques flooded the ice.

With Ming’s tying goal, the game was now headed to overtime with two crucial points on the line. Mississauga had the best chance to score in overtime, hitting the post with just over one second remaining, but the period remained scoreless and a shootout was needed to settle the tie.

Needing five shooters to decide the game, the captain Mercer won the game for Niagara making a great deke move to fake out Martin and put it in the back of the net.

This was a big win for Niagara, as it moved them alone into seventh place in the standings and in great position to secure a playoff spot with two games remaining.

The next night in Mississauga, Niagara unfortunately lost to the Steelheads, but since it wasn’t a regulation loss, the team ended up clinching a playoff spot with the one point they earned in the loss.

With Niagara already clinching a playoff spot, the IceDogs could relax a little bit as they played their last home game of the regular season against the Peterborough Petes on Mar. 16.

Ming followed up his strong play from a few nights earlier as he picked up the first goal of the game roughly six minutes into the game. Brendan Perlini (Shelby Township, Ont.) —who is a probable 2014 NHL first-round draft-pick — continued the hot start for Niagara as he scored a goal roughly a minute later to give the IceDogs a 2-0 lead.

The first period continued to be filled with goals as the Petes rallied back to eventually tie the game 2-2. However, just 33 seconds after the Petes had tied the game, Niagara scored to once again to retake the lead. Before the period ended, Niagara scored again for their third power play goal of the period, making the score 4-2 after one period of play.

The second period was no different for goals as the Petes once again rallied from a two-goal deficit and tied the game at 4-4 midway through the period. Niagara continued to outshoot Peterborough tremendously but that didn’t matter, as the game remained tied until the end of regulation.

The game would continue to stay 4-4 through five minutes of overtime and for the third straight game, Niagara found themselves in a shootout. Niagara’s Graham Knott (Holland Landing, Ont.) scored the game-winning goal for the IceDogs in the shootout as Niagara won the game 5-4.

With the win, Niagara finished in seventh place in the OHL’s Eastern Conference and will face the Brampton Battalion in the first round. Niagara’s first home game of the playoffs will take place on Mar. 25 at 7:00 p.m

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