SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT. - A team that can break out offensively when the opportunity arises took advantage of one on Friday night.
A three-goal outburst late in the second period lifted the Greyhounds to a 5-3 Ontario Hockey League victory over the Kitchener Rangers Friday at the GFL Memorial Gardens.
The second period stretch saw the Greyhounds score three times in 2:47 to turn a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 lead and was a crucial turning point for the Greyhounds.
“We have a lot of power up front,” overage defenceman Robert Calisti said. “Anytime our boys get going and stick to the structure, get pucks on net we can have times like that where we break out in such a short period of time.”
“When you give us chances, we’re going to capitalize,” added veteran forward Rory Kerins. “We’ve been that way all year. They gave us some chances to score, and we took it and ran with it.”
Greyhounds coach John Dean called the stretch a turning point in the game.
“We thought we were playing pretty well for the most part up to that point, but hadn’t got rewarded,” Dean said. “It was nice for the guys because I thought we were holding our sticks a little tight and starting to feel the effects of some non-puck luck. For the guys to jump out and get those three was a pretty clear turning point."
Dean added that he was pleased with the opening period.
“We managed the puck, and you could see there was some intent there to make sure that we were very responsible with it,” Dean said.
On the flip side, Rangers coach Mike McKenzie wasn’t pleased with the start from his team.
“I didn’t like the start of our game at all,” McKenzie said. “Jackson (Parsons) kept us in it pretty good at the start. We were hanging in there and getting our legs a little bit, then we got an undisciplined penalty and those are the ones that are tough to kill off sometimes. They have a way of biting you and it did.”
The power play goal by the Greyhounds came on a penalty to Rangers forward Navrin Mutter that started the offensive outburst by the Greyhounds
A late-game penalty kill turned into an important point in the game as well for the Greyhounds after the Rangers cut the Sault lead to 5-3 with a pair of goals in the final frame.
“I’m disappointed that it got to that point,” Dean said. “It shouldn’t have got there. That’s a reflection of our last 20 minutes. The penalty kill came through.”
Dean added that a willingness to block shots from veteran players stood out on the penalty kill as well.
“All of the guys out there were sacrificing their bodies for the team,” Dean said. “It was pretty clear.”
“That’s a big point in the game,” Calisti said. “When you’re up by a couple late in the game and you get a penalty, it sucks but it’s a time of the year where guys have to do little things a little bit more just to secure points and feel good about yourself going to the end of the season and into the playoffs. It’s good to see.”
The Greyhounds got on the board first when Calisti beat Kitchener goaltender Jackson Parsons with a shot from the right circle high short side at 4:09 of the opening period. The play started as Calisti took a drop pass from Rory Kerins near the blueline and skated into the circle before putting the puck on net.
Matthew Sop tied the game for the Rangers at 9:25 of the second period when he bat in a loose puck at the top of the crease past Greyhounds goaltender Tucker Tynan.
Calisti made it 2-1 Greyhounds when he beat Parsons from the right circle on a pass from Cole MacKay at 16:28 of the second period.
Greyhounds rookie Bryce McConnell-Barker made it 3-1 Greyhounds when he beat Parsons from the right circle high short side at 17:53
Just 1:22 later, Owen Allard made it 4-1 Greyhounds, beating Parsons from the left faceoff circle high glove side.
Jack Thompson made it 5-1 Greyhounds when he beat Parsons from the right faceoff circle short side at 3:05 of the third period.
The Rangers cut the lead to 5-2 at 11:33 of the third when Simon Motew took a pass in close and beat Tynan.
Francesco Pinelli then made it 5-3 at 14:24 of the third when he skated through the slot and deflected a point shot by Roman Schmidt past Tynan.
Rory Kerins and Cole MacKay assisted on a pair of goals each for the Greyhounds.
Tynan made 24 saves for the Greyhounds.
Dean called it “one of the better games he’s played as a Hound.”
“He really battled,” Dean said. “He made a huge save on the PK to keep us in the mix when we were up 2-1. We put him in a real tough spot in the third period and hung him out to dry, but he kept battling.”
Parsons, who had missed an extended stretch due to injury for the Rangers prior to starting Friday’s contest, made 38 saves in the loss.
“He showed some good maturity coming off injury,” McKenzie said. “In the next couple of years, he’s going to be one of the top guys in the league the way he’s shown as a young guy so far. We can’t fault him at all tonight. We need to show him more support.”
With the win, the Greyhounds improve to 30-17-6-1 and sit five points behind the Flint Firebirds for top spot in the OHL’s West Division. The Firebirds were also in action on Friday, picking up a 6-2 win on the road against the London Knights.
The Greyhounds got some help in the battle atop the division as well on Friday as the Erie Otters beat the Windsor Spitfires, allowing the Greyhounds to jump one point ahead of Windsor for second in the division.
The Erie/Windsor result was bad news for the Rangers however as it allowed the Otters to move one point ahead of Kitchener in the Midwest Division and in the battle for the final playoff spot in the OHL’s Western Conference.
The Rangers did get some help on that front as well though as the Guelph Storm beat the Sarnia Sting Friday, meaning the Rangers and Sting are tied for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
The Rangers will take a 22-25-2-2 record into Saturday’s rematch with the Greyhounds. Puck drop at the GFL Memorial Gardens is set for 7:07 p.m.