66 games down, 2 to go for the Kitchener Rangers. Game 66 went off perfectly to plan as the Rangers beat the Erie Otters 5-1. Arguably the best game of the season for Kitchener's John Gibson. A few of his saves tonight will have Ranger fans talking until the playoffs. One particularly spectacular play came on a 4-on-1 breakaway for the Otters, but they couldn't beat the quick glove hand of Gibson.
Speaking of Gibson, the 'rookie' netminder signed an entry level contract with the Anaheim Ducks this past week. Already it has led to speculation about next season. Using the precedent set by another former Ranger Jeremy Morin as an example, since Gibson was drafted by an NHL team while he was playing for the US National Team Development Program, the rules of the CHL/NHL agreement do not apply to him. Just as Morin was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks AHL farm team while he was still eligible to be a Ranger, the Ducks could do the same with Gibson. Now obviously this is just speculation at this point. Ranger fans have no reason to worry just yet about losing their 'Blue Kryptonite', but this certainly will be the topic of discussion for Ranger fans heading in to next season.
Moving on in to hockey's second season, Kitchener is resting captain Michael Cattenacci and forward Andrew Cresenzci for the final weekend of the season. Both are nursing minor injuries and are sitting out just so they can be 100% come playoff time. Speaking of injuries, with the exception of Matia Marcantuoni and Evan McEnemy, this will be the first time the Rangers have their full line up ready to play since opening night. That should be very helpful for this team heading in to the first round.
So who will Kitchener be playing in the first round? While mathematically speaking it's still possible for Sarnia, Owen Sound or Saginaw to be the first round opponent, I believe it will be Owen Sound. Kitchener has had a lot of success against the 2011 OHL Champions this season. The only attack player who's really shown that he can stand up to the Rangers his forward Mike Halmo, however he won't be playing at all in the first round as he received a 10 game suspension after hitting Nail Yakupov. The suspension was maybe a bit much but regardless it certainly works out in favour of whoever meets the Attack in the first round, while it's very bad for Owen Sound.
Saginaw is an interesting team. Relatively speaking, they don't seem to have a lot of star players but that doesn't mean that they're not good. They can roll a few solid lines along with stellar goaltending when need be. They've won 3 of their last 4 and are showing no sign of stopping any time soon. Saturday nights game between the Rangers and the Spirit should give a better idea of how these teams stack up, but don't be surprised if Saginaw gives Kitchener a run for their money, should they meet in the first round.
I spoke with Winnipeg Jets prospect Cody Sol following the game on Friday night. Sol told me that his only goal for the playoffs is to win the Memorial Cup. 2 games left, then its time to stop talking and get down to business. Should be a very interesting post season.