Thursday, April 14, 2011

Take Your Pick

For New York Ranger and New York Islander prospects this one was a pretty good night for the most of them; so good that you take your pick of who was the star of the night. You know it was a good night when you get 1 Yahoo Star of the Night and 2 Honorable Mentions out of 6 games (total count was 4 first stars, 1 second).

Any one of the 3 Yahoo mentions deserved to be the star of the night but in the end we went with Kirill Kabanov of the Lewiston Maineaics. Kabanov is turning the playoff series against the Montreal Junior into his personal redemption party and consider us sold that Kabanov is a changed person.

The First Star of the Game, Kabanov broke a 1-1 tie with his 3rd goal of the playoffs 33 seconds into the 3rd period then exactly 4 minutes later at 4:33 used his 2nd goal of the game (and 4th of the playoffs) to administer the dagger right into the hearts of the Montreal Junior. Thanks to Kabanov's 2 third period goals the Maineaics earned a 4-1 win and more importantly a 3-1 lead in the series.

This is way beyond anything we expected out of Kabanov even when we said Kabanov had to start scoring in order for the Maineaics to have any chance of winning this series. Kabanov is now 4-7-11 with a 6 game scoring streak that the Maineaics have gone 5-1 in.

Now we want to see Kabanov show a killer instinct by being the leader on Friday night and end the series in Montreal. Yes we are asking a lot of Kabanov but the reality is that critics of Kabanov are going to look for any mistakes by him and pounce on it.

Now do not get us wrong Jason Wilson of the Niagara IceDogs is equally as worthy of being the first star on Wednesday night. Wilson put up a 3 point night that turned into the first Gordie Howe Playoff Hat Trick recorded in the 7 years we have been doing this. Even without the fight, Wilson's efforts were outstanding as without question this was the best game Wilson played all year.

Wilson's 2-1-3 night led to a 6-1 IceDog win over the Oshawa Generals which gives the IceDogs a 3-1 lead in their series. Wilson got the IceDogs going with a goal 5:52 into the first period then added a second goal just 3:24 later for a 2-0 Niagara lead.

The goals were Wilson's 3rd and 4th and there was nothing at all fancy about the goals. It is basic hockey 101, you put someone who is willing to plant himself in the crease willing to take the punishment from the defense to remain there then get that player the puck.

Simply put Wilson won the battles in the crease and was able to score to help his team. Wilson also added a secondary assist on the IceDog's 5th goal for the 3 point night. Hard work and a consistent effort earned Wilson the game's "first star"

Here are the video highlights of the game as Wilson's goals came in the first minute of the clip; Christian Thomas scored the only goal for the Generals (around 2 minute mark). There is also a very nice goal scored by Darren Archibald (2:25 mark stick taps to Buzzing the Net and OHL Prospects)

This was the breakthrough win of this series as other than Christian Thomas's 8th goal of the playoffs, the Oshawa Generals just have not been able to solve the Niagara defense since the second game of this series. Credit the Niagara team as a whole for sticking to a well crafted game plan.

Christian Thomas, there can be no complaints about his play as Thomas (if you saw his goal in the clip) just is not getting the support from his teammates.  Thomas with 8-10-18 leads the OHL in playoff scoring scoring in 8 out of the 9 playoff games that the Generals have played in.

Thomas's goal actually gave Oshawa some hope of getting back into the game since the goal make it a 2 goal game but as you saw in the clip, Niagara simply ended that hope in less than a minute. Thomas can do many things but nobody is going to steal an entire series by themselves.

Calvin de Haan was held to nothing, Tony DeHart had an assist on Thomas's goal to move to 2-10-12 (second among OHL defenders) and Dan Maggio one can honestly say was invisible. Credit to the hard work of Niagara for that as it is not that the other 3 are playing badly but that the Niagara defense made them ineffective.

Niagara now gets to head home for Game 5 with chance to end this series. While we are not going to say "the series is over" out of respect to the Generals but it is pretty close.

Scott Stajcer was the first star of his game as his Owen Sound Attack defeated the Plymouth Whalers 4-1 and earn a 4 game sweep of their series. In all honesty we just do not know how to describe the performance of Stajcer other than mind-blowing.

It is not just that Stajcer was good but that he got better as the series went on. Start with a relief appearance that asked Stajcer to come in ice cold to replace that starter and hold the game for his team to win in overtime.

In game 2 which was his first since November as a starter, Stajcer gave up 2 goals on 31 shots for win number 2. Game 3 was 1 goal on 26 shots for win number 3.

In game 4 it was Stajcer coming 1:05 from shutting out the Whalers stopping 36 out of 37 shots for a 4-1 gane win, a 4 game sweep. What really got us was Stajcer's numbers were getting better as the series wore on.

Stajcer is now 4-0 with a 1.07 goals against and an impressive 0.963 save percentage on 4 goals while facing 109 shots. When we talked to Scott last week for the Blueshirt Bulletin, he gave a lot of the credit to Ranger's goalie coach Benoit Allaire for his dramatic improvement this year.

Now the Rangers have until June 1st to decide to sign Stajcer their second 5th round pick in the 2009 NHL draft. While the Rangers are thinking about that Stajcer and his teammates are going to play for the Wayne Gretzky Trophy trying to become the OHL Western Conference Champions.

Should Stajcer and the Attack do that then they will become the first Owen Sound team to win the conference championship. If that happens then Owen Sound will be hoping that they get to face the Mississauga St. Michaels Majors in the OHL Finals.

And we want to stick tap the Attack for showing class by saluting the efforts of the Plymouth Whaler after their win. None of the "Yea we are great" but rather congratulating the Whalers on their season and their efforts.

The Attack were not the only team to clinch a spot in their conference finals as Casey Cizikas and his Mississauga St Michaels Majors joined them.

The Majors just had to make their win more dramatic for their fans and sadly truly heartbreaking for the Sudbury Wolves.

Trailing 3-0 in the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period, the Majors staged an impressive comeback led by Cizikas's goal and assist. Trailing 3-1, Cizikas scored his 2nd goal of the playoffs at 14:45 to cut the lead to just 1.

With time running out in regulation and the Majors on the power play it was Cizikas who fed Devante Smith-Pelly for the tying goal at 18:09 of the 3rd period. A valiant effort by the Sudbury Wolves was not enough as the Majors scored at 2:20 to win the game 4-3 and sweep the series 4-0.

Cizikas was named the game's second star as he improved to 2-3-5 in just 4 games. The Majors advance to face the winner of the Niagara/Oshawa series and the right to win the Bobby Orr Trophy.

Still we also want to salute the Sudbury Wolves and assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom as the Wolves gave it everything they had and made this a much more competitive series than the scores or outcome will show. They will be a force next season.

Nino Niederreiter and his Portland Winterhawks had to fight for every goal against the Kelowna Rockets in game 4 of their series as the Rockets kept this game closer than the score shows. Niederreiter earn the game's first star with a 3 assist effort as Portland defeated Kelowna 4-2 to grab a 3-1 series lead.

Niederreiter had 2 secondary assists in the game but it was his 3rd one; a primary assist to Ryan Johansen at 16:11 with the score 3-2 that just took the air out of the Rockets. Kelowna had fought so hard to get back into the game but that one play took all the fight out of them.

Portland gets to return home for game 5 on Friday night looking to end the series.

Ryan Bourque actually had a quiet game going scoreless on 5 shots but he is not going to complain as his Remparts returned the favor of a 4 goal 3rd period to the Shawinigan Cataractes to earn a 5-1 win and a 3-1 series lead.

The Remparts will look to close out their series Friday night in Quebec.

(Images: Kabanov/Ron Morin/Lewiston Maineaics, Wilson and Cizikas/ Aaron Bell-OHL Images)

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