After two wins against the Generals at home, the Niagara IceDogs will travel to Oshawa this week for games three and four in their best of seven series with a chance to sweep. The IceDogs finished fourth in the Eastern conference this season (35-23-7-3), while Oshawa finished fifth (36-29-3-0).
In game one this past Friday night, the IceDogs opened the series with a 4-2 win against the Generals. Three players on Niagara recorded multi-point nights as Ben Jones, Akil Thomas and Sam Miletic each recorded a goal and an assist on Friday night. Goaltender Stephen Dhillon made 34 saves on 36 shots.
On Sunday, the two teams met for game two for a matinee. The IceDogs went into the third period with a 2-1 lead for the second game in a row, but surged in the final 20 minutes, winning 6-1.
Despite being outshot 35-32, the IceDogs went four-for-nine on their powerplay (three of their powerplay goals were scored in the third period), while the Generals went one-for-11 on their powerplay. Sam Miletic recorded three points in game two (two goals, one assist), while Akil Thomas had another two point night (one goal, one assist), and Kirill Maksimov and Danial Singer both recorded two assists. Stephen Dhillon made 34 saves on the night.
First year head coach Billy Burke was happy with the way his team approached their first two games of the series.
“Right off the top the guys approached it with a great attitude, a real playoff feel, we were trying to win, we understand Oshawa is a good team, had a good start in game one and were able to keep it going in game two,” said Burke.
“We’re not a one-of team, [and] the guys are buying in for each other.”
Despite scoring 10 goals on the weekend en route to a 2-0 series lead, Burke said there are still things to improve on before Tuesday.
“I definitely think we need to keep an eye on our discipline, continue to build, [there won’t be] many changes from us but we need to reinforce what we do well, our defence has great gap and it’s limiting their time and space,” Burke said. “You can always be better and stronger in your defensive zone, the guys are playing really well away from the puck, we know it’s going to be their best game of the season on Tuesday and we’re going to be prepared for that.”
Last season, the IceDogs were swept in the first round by Peterborough. This year, however, they have the opportunity to reverse that fate and eliminate Oshawa in four games. For Burke, the message stays simple for his guys, even those who haven’t been in this situation before in their careers.
“We told them after game one, that’s just one, and after game two it’s just two,” Burke said. “It’s first to four not to two, it can change in a hurry, they know [Oshawa’s] not down until they lose one at home. We need to go in with the mindset to win game three. If we’re playing at the top of our game, fast and physical in all three zones, I think we’re going to be okay.”
Game three between Oshawa and Niagara will be played on Tuesday, March 27 at 7:05 p.m in Oshawa at the Tribute Communities Centre, and game four will be played on Thursday, March 29 at 7:05 p.m, also in Oshawa.