Saturday, May 11, 2013

Staying Alive

Michael St. Croix (Canadian Press via Buzzing the Net)
Here's the part where doing what I do here is sometimes hard to explain to people because it is not about getting quotes or even talking to the prospects but watching the things they do in certain situations. Look if a prospect isn't a big game player here in the juniors then odds are he won't be as a Ranger. Having said that then it was Portland Oregon in a win or go home game for Michael St. Croix (NYR 2011 4th) and his Edmonton Oil Kings as they took on the Portland Winterhawks.

St. Croix has been held in check for the first 4 games of this series with just one goal and no assists to show for his efforts. Give the Winterhawks the lion's share of the credit because they had been doing an outstanding job defensively not only on St. Croix but his linemates as well. Portland has put the clamps on Edmonton's offense limiting them just to 6 goals in 4 games (with 4 goals coming in game 1).

Game 5 started off like it would be a celebration for Portland as they scored on their very first shot of the game just 15 seconds into the game. It was another slow start for Edmonton who have been shooting themselves in the foot with these starts all series long.

But on this night it was St. Croix and his linemates putting the team on their shoulders as Edmonton answered the Winterhawk's goal with one of their own. T.J. Foster fired a shot towards the Winterhawk net that depending on your perspective either went in off Portland's Nick Petan or off Michael St. Croix's stick. St. Croix was credited with the goal at 10:14 of the first for his 12th of the playoffs.

(Oil Kings folks say goal was Fosters but WHL will review before making any change)

In the 3rd period with the score still tied at 1-1, Portland goalie Mac Carruth left his net for a puck in the corner but was beaten to it by the Oil Kings Dylan Wruck who fed St. Croix who threw it into the empty net off a spin-a-rama for a 2-1 Oil King lead at 7:01. On this goal there won't be any question as to who scored it as St. Croix had his 2nd of the game and 13th of the playoffs.

Portland though tied up the game with just under 6 minutes remaining which led to overtime and overtime was as wild as the Rangers/Capitals was except this one had a happy ending for the Oil Kings. It was St. Croix scoring the series saving goal for the Oil Kings as he jumped into the rush and off a nice feed from Dylan Wruck beat Carruth with a wrist shot that was under the bar for the 3-2 game winner at 7:24 of the first overtime.

The win forces a game 6 in a wild series where both teams have won 2 games on the road and home ice so far has meant nothing. St. Croix who with each point re-writes the Oil King playoff scoring record book for now has 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points which is good for 2nd in the WHL playoff scoring race.

St. Croix for his efforts earned the Buzzing The Net First Star of the night. Game 6 is Sunday afternoon in Edmonton with the Oil Kings needing a win to force game 7 in Portland on Monday.

This series I know I am biased but it has been way more entertaining that either of the other two leagues. Neither team has dropped the gloves in the 5 games played (which of course means a riot will happen on Sunday).

In Halifax, Samuel Noreau (NYR 2011 5th) and his Baie-Comeau Drakkar were needing a win on the road against the Halifax Mooseheads to force a 6 game of their own. Unfortunately that didn't happen as the Mooseheads jump on the Drakkar for a 3 goal first period and rode it to a 5-1 win and the QMJHL Championship eliminating the Drakkar in 5 games.

Noreau ends his season on a down note a -2 on 1 shot and 2 hits but there is no question that Noreau was the most improved Ranger prospect of the year. The one time 3rd pair enforcer worked his way up to a leadership position on the Drakkar, a top 4 defender who was used on both the power play and the penalty kill.

Noreau posted career bests in goals, points and plus/minus (7-25-32 +19) with all 7 goals coming on the power play with 2 game winners. Has he earned a Ranger contract is a good question but at the very least he is deserving of an AHL deal which the Rangers can convert into an NHL deal down the road IF Noreau earns it. The Rangers aren't exactly swimming in defensive prospects which means they hopefully will think long and hard on Noreau.

In London, Tommy Hughes (NYR UFA 2013) and his London Knights were also needing a win to keep their series going against Mitchell Theoret (NYI 2011 7th) and his Barrie Colts. The Knights who are the defending OHL champions were heavy favorites to win this series but haven't played like champions.

The Knights scored the only goal in the first period made it a 2-0 lead early in the 2nd period before Theoret responded with his 11th goal of the playoffs to get his Colts on the scoreboard. London would add 2 more goals to take a 4-1 lead into the 2nd intermission and appeared to have the game under control.

The 3rd period saw the teams trade goals as London held off Barrie 6-4 to force a game 6 in Barrie on Saturday night. Both prospects in this game didn't play badly with Theoret putting up a goal along with a +2 and a cross-checking minor that was offset by a diving call on the London player. The OHL is going to rule on a charging major so Theoret could find himself having to fill in on the top line again.

Tommy Hughes who has overcome the rough game he had in game 3 was scoreless and a +2 in the win for the Knights. Game 6 is Saturday night in Barrie.

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