Is it possible the see playoff hockey in October? The Plymouth Whalers and Kitchener Rangers proved it on Saturday and Sunday.
Justin Bailey’s goal at 3:00 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and the Rangers beat the Whalers, 2-1, before 6,630 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium on Sunday.
Plymouth’s winning streak is snapped at five games. The Whalers are now 7-4-3-1 and in second place in the Ontario Hockey League’s West Division. Kitchener has won four straight games at the newly renovated Kitchener Memorial Auditorium and is 8-4-1-1.
Coupled with Plymouth’s 2-1 overtime victory over Kitchener on Saturday, the Whalers and Rangers played 120:37 either tied or no more than a one-goal differential over two games the entire weekend.
Kitchener goaltender John Gibson (a second round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks who has been signed) was the difference in Sunday’s game as the first star, stopping 31 Plymouth shots and all 12 in the decisive third period. Plymouth goaltender Matt Mahalak also played well as the game’s third star, stopping 37-of-39 shots.
Consistent with the theme of the weekend, Plymouth and Kitchener skated to an evenly played first period on Sunday with each team registering nine shots on goal.
Ryan Hartman scored the first goal of the game at 0:30 of the second period to give Plymouth a 1-0 lead. His linemates, Zach Bratina and Garrett Meurs, dug the puck out from behind the Kitchener net and found Hartman at the hashmarks, who snapped the puck home for his fourth goal of the season.
Kitchener came back to tie the game at 11:36. Jared Gilbert’s point shot was tipped by Matt Puempel at the left side of the Plymouth net past Mahalak. Puemple leads Kitchener with 10 goals this season.
Kitchener outshot Plymouth, 17-11, in the second period.
Plymouth started the third period on the power play and pressured the Kitchener zone, but Gibson made saves on Rickard Rakell and Zach Bratina and two each on Cody Payne and Austin Levi. The best chance didn’t count as a shot as Meurs rang a shot off the post.
Directly after Gibson did his job, the Rangers scored the game-winner. Josh Sterk skated the puck out the Kitchener zone and found Ryan Murphy (who probably leads the OHL in ice-time). Murphy skated into the Plymouth zone on the right wing and found Justin Bailey as the late man skating to the slot. Bailey wasted no time with the shot for his third goal of the season at 3:00 and Kitchener led for the first time in the game at 2-1.
The Rangers held on for the win. Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci called time out and pulled Mahalak for the extra attacker with 1:26 remaining, but the Whalers couldn’t find the equalizer.
Plymouth plays twice this weekend in a home-and-home series with Sarina, starting Friday in Sarnia (6:50 p.m., www.plymouthwhalers.com) and concluding Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena (6:45 p.m., 88.1 FM WSDP The Park.
SATURDAY: Plymouth 2, Kitchener 1 (OT)