by Alex Quevillon
Ask and you shalreceive. A week ago, I wrote about the issues facing the recently crowned East Division Champion Ottawa 67's. They took a pair of disheartening losses to Barrie and London on the final week of February, leaving a number of fans in the Nation's Capital worried that for a second year in a row, we would be watching another short, uneventful and uninspired playoffs. Surely, that mentality has changed after Ottawa's most recent 3-in-3.
The biggest issue last week in the opinion of many, myself included, was goaltending. For those who remember current Quebec Remparts coach Patrick Roy from his days as an NHL goaltender, he became a legend because of how well he recovered from bad games. Now, I'm not comparing Roy to our starting goaltender. And, with all due respect, Petr Mrazek did have two consecutive rough games last weekend. But his response in his last two starts was spectacular.
As proven all year, Mrazek can usually shut the door when given goal support; he got it early and often on the roadtrip's opener Friday in Sarnia. Sean Monahan got Ottawa on the board less than two minutes into the game and by the three-minute mark of the second, the Barberpoles had opened up a three-goal lead courtesy of goals from Shane Prince and Tyler Graovac. Charles Sarault ruined Mrazek's shutout bid in the third period but his 40-save performance was good enough to hold on for a 3-1 win over the Sting (31-24-2-5).
On Saturday, Ottawa looked to avenge their disaster from last weekend, facing the top team in the country, the London Knights (45-16-0-1), for the second time in six days. And London got on the board first again, with Brett Cook's second goal of the year. But from there, the 67's took over. With Mrazek keeping them in it, Tyler Toffoli tied the game with his league-leading 48th goal, setting the stage for Cody Ceci to win the game on a strange bounce in the third. This time, 39 stops for the Ottawa netminder, but many of them more spectacular than the saves made the night before.
The Czech netminder was given a well-deserved rest on Sunday in Guelph. Not a bad comeback weekend at all. And knowing the character that Mrazek is, 79 saves and two goals allowed wasn't good enough for Ottawa's goaltender, he had to add two penalty minutes and an assist to boot. With that, my bad for saying last weekend that he only deserved to play one game on this road trip. He proved me wrong, and that's what great goaltenders do, at any level of hockey.
Michael Nishi took over between the pipes on Sunday, and while he may have looked shaky on the three goals he did allow, he was anything but against the Storm (27-28-2-4). Heading into the third period down 3-1, the short-manned and undoubtedly tired Ottawa squad put together an impressive comeback, with Toffoli and Steven Janes tying the game late to send it to overtime. Nishi, after making 47 saves, allowed the only goal in the shootout, as the 67's lost the weekend finale 4-3.
It was great to see the 67's get depth scoring, come back in a game where they were short-manned, showed a lot of heart to come back and get a fifth point out of a possible six. Both goaltenders were tremendous, and it's good to see depth scoring from guys like Ceci and Nicholas Foglia.
Unfortunately, Shane Prince was injured during Saturday's game and as a result, his point streak is halted at 22 games. The 67's also lost Brett Gustavsen to injury. And Ryan Van Stralen. And Marc-Anthony Zanetti, Taylor Fielding and Daniel Broussard continue to join John McFarland on the sidelines. Haven't I said multiple times that the 67's need to be healthy to take a serious run? People in Ottawa are hoping that this wave of injuries stops now, and doesn't carry into the playoffs at the end of the month.
Now, the 67's take their strong road play into Kingston for the final matchup of the year against the rival Frontenacs (19-37-3-4) on Wednesday. Ottawa returns home next Friday to take on the conference-leading Niagara Ice Dogs, a game that could decide the Eastern Conference. The 67's are a banged up team with recently rejuvenated goaltending, so let's hope that Alex Friesen doesn't run and injure our goalie, too.
(Of course the 67's will have two, maybe three goaltenders in the building on Friday, so dressing a forward in goalie pads is highly unlikely, but I had to get a Connor Crisp reference in there, tons of respect to the kid).
Ottawa (38-16-5-3) trail the Ice Dogs (42-17-0-3) by three points as both teams have six games remaining.