Monday, May 4, 2009

Staying Alive

There are times when your hard work does not always show up in the scoresheet and that was the case in the "must win" Game 3 for the Brampton Battalion.

The Battalion jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then held on to win 4-2 over the Windsor Spitfires in a game where Evgeny Grachev did a lot more than the one assist he got credited for. The win cuts Windsor's series lead to 2-1 as the series shifts back to Brampton for yet another "must win" game on Wednesday.

Grachev as we said was credited for just one assist as well as a +2 but we wish there was a stat that showed other things such as power plays generated for your team. If that was the case then Grachev was a +2 there as he drew 2 key penalties against the Spitfires.

Both penalties were momentum shifters for the Battalion as the first penalty was an interference call in the first period as Grachev trying to attack the Windsor net. The second was also the result of Grachev going on the attack as he got caught with an elbow.

The Battalion did not score on those penalties but they were able to press the attack and eventually built up a 4-0 lead. Grachev got an assist on the 4th Brampton goal as he out worked 2 Spitfires for the puck that teammate Cody Hodgson got to the front of the net and Jason Dale shoved in.

With a 4-0 lead though the Battalion let off the gas pedal and we got to see why Windsor's Taylor Hall is one of the favorites to be the first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Hall is an impressive offensive machine who almost singlehandly got Windsor back into this game.

Hall was the entire Windsor attack in the 3rd period as he scored one goal but had several different chances to score. This is a player to key a very close eye on as there is a very good reason why Hall is leading the OHL in playoff scoring at 15-19-35 in 15 games.

The bigger story is that Grachev was an active presence on the at both ends and as we have said all during the playoffs, the more active Grachev is then the better a chance of winning that Brampton has.

With the assist Grachev also did not go 3 consecutive games without a point, a feat he has not done since the very beginning of the OHL season. The question can Grachev go on another scoring streak to carry the Battalion to the OHL championship?

We will find out part of the answer on Wednesday evening when Game 4 takes place in Brampton.

When the 2008-09 season began nobody other than Ranger scouts knew the name Tysen Dowzak but that is no longer the case. The 6'5 215 lb one more win and Ranger fans will say he is a champion.

Dowzak's Kelowna Rockets shut out the Calgary Hitmen 2-0 and now own a commanding 3-0 series lead in their WHL Finals series. After 3 straight wins the word "upset" no longer applies as this Rocket team is right now playing perhaps the best hockey in all of the Canadian Juniors.

Dowzak has as his coaches wanted all season elevated his game to where Dowzak is now on the ice in the biggest moments of the game, on the penalty kill and now he is even out there on the power play. The Rocket now have won 5 straight playoff game after trailing Vancouver 2-1 in their conference finals.

Watching Dowzak looking for his shot these days is something we have to get used to but developing some kind of offense is a must for Dowzak if he has any hopes of an NHL career. There is no question that Dowzak has the defensive skills to be a force but if he can improve his first pass out of the zone, if he can take enough shots to force other teams to take him seriously and if he can put some points on the board then Dowzak has a shot.

In the game, the Rockets took the play to the Hitmen in the first period combining good solid defense with an attacking offense that limited the Hitmen to just 3 shots on goal. The Rockets got their first goal from an unlikely source as they had put out what was their energy line/4th line when the game appeared to be headed to some chippy play.

Moments before Ryley Grantham was offering to fight a couple of the Hitmen when on the very next play, he scored his 4 goal of the playoff. That goal proved to be the game winner as the Rockets and Hitmen settled in for what proved to be a defensive struggle highlighted by some very hard (but also clean) hitting.

The second period was scoreless but the Rockets settled in more in a defensive role and that almost cost them as the Hitmen were able to start generating offense. If not for Rocket goalie Mark Guggenberger standing on his head the Hitmen would have tied and then went on to win this game.

In the third period the game came down to the Rocket's defense and Guggenberger holding off a Hitmen attack as the Hitmen reversed the first period numbers and out shot the Rocket's 10-3. The Rockets were able to score an empty net goal with just 6 seconds remaining in regulation for the final score.

Of course nobody on the Rockets is thinking that the Hitmen are going to roll over and hand Game 4 over to them. The Rockets know that they escaped Game 3 thanks to their goalie and winning this series is going require a lot more work.

Game 4 is on Wednesday in Kelowna.

(Grachev courtesy of Aaron Bell, Dowzak courtesy of Tim Swanky)

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