A dirty deke by Oshawa’s Nando Eggenberger in Round 4 of the shootout gave the Generals a 3-2 victory over the visiting Sudbury Wolves in a key Eastern Conference matchup on Monday afternoon, as the two teams gave fans a Family Day treat at the Tribute Communities Centre.
It was a hard-fought, physical game with two top-flight goaltenders slugging it out in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who stopped 35 of 37 for Sudbury, and Kyle Keyser, who kicked out 24 of 26 for Oshawa.
Losing the extra point didn’t cloud the fact that the Wolves showed tremendous resilience, taking three of a possible four points on the road, after getting clobbered 10-4 at home by the Soo Greyhounds on Friday night in arguably their worst game of the season. They followed up with a 5-4 win in Niagara on Sunday, before gutting out a single point in Oshawa.
“We played better on the road and to get blown out at home before you go … good bounce-back,” said Wolves head coach Cory Stillman. “You get three out of four points against the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in our own conference.”
It looked like the Wolves had nothing in the tank, playing in their fourth game in six days, and getting outshot 17-4 in the opening period against the Generals on Monday. But they got better as the game went along, and actually took the play to Oshawa in the five-minute, three-on-three overtime period.
“We had quite a few chances in overtime and should have won the game there,” said Stillman. “I think we had two partial breakaways and Keyser played very well for them too, made big saves, and really you saw what happens when you have two good goalies. The game goes back and forth and it ends up in a 2-2 tie with a shootout win.”
The Wolves also had a leg up early in the shootout. After veteran Brandon Saigeon failed to beat Luukkonen through the five-hole, import centre Adam Ruzicka beat Keyser high on the blocker side to put Sudbury in the driver’s seat.
Luukkonen then stopped Kyle MacLean on the backhand, giving the Wolves’ second shooter, Quinton Byfield, a chance to win the game. But the rookie lost the handle on a deke attempt. The next two Oshawa shooters beat Luukkonen — Anthony Salinitri low blocker and Eggenberger on the game-winning deke.
Shane Bulitka missed on the Wolves’ third shot and Blake Murray also failed in a must-score situation, as he fought control of the puck at the top of the circle and didn’t get off a great shot.
It’s a logjam for second, third and fourth in the conference. By virtue of only getting one point on Monday, the Wolves dropped to fourth. Niagara beat Peterborough 5-2 to get to 75 points, which gives them a one-point edge on Sudbury for the Central Division lead and therefore second seed. Oshawa jumps to 77 points with the win, but third seed is probably the best they can do given that they’re 16 points behind the East Division-leading Ottawa 67’s.
The Wolves jumped out to an early lead against the Generals on Monday, with Darian Pilon enjoying his brother’s return to the lineup following a two game suspension. Although Drake didn’t draw an assist, he was on the ice for his twin’s 14th of the season at the 3:09 mark of the first period. Adam Ruzicka drew the only assist.
The Gens were all over Sudbury the rest of the first and went to the dressing room with a 2-1 lead. Brett Neumann drained his 38th of the season, taking a pass right on the doorstep and beating Luukkonen just above the right pad at the 8:27 mark to tie the game 1-1.
Macauley Carson then got nailed for goaltender interference on a bit of an odd play. As he was skating to the front of the Generals net looking out toward the blueline, Keyser came outside of his crease and Carson bumped him. Keyser stayed down for a bit, but the referees only assessed a two-minute minor. However, the Generals cashed in thanks to a pretty four-way passing play that was converted by shootout hero Eggenberger, who potted his 22nd to make it 2-1.
The Wolves outshot the Generals 13-7 in the second period, and even had a penalty shot in the mix. Sophomore defenceman Liam Ross broke free with the puck around centre ice and took a slash on the arm on a shorthanded breakaway. He stayed near the bench for a while shaking it off, but eventually took the shot. While the hard-shooting blueliner does have seven goals on the season, his deke attempt fizzled, and the score remained 2-1 until the 4:16 mark of the third period, when Quinton Byfield blasted a slapshot from in tight and beat Keyser on the glove side for his 22nd of the season to tie the game 2-2. Blake McConville did some excellent work on the forecheck, creating a turnover on the end boards and shovelling the puck out front to Byfield, who made no mistake.
Wolves unsung hero Shane Bulitka took a hard hit into the boards in the third period and was seen going down the tunnel to the dressing room with what appeared to be an upper-body injury. It definitely didn’t look like he’d be able to return, but he did, and was a factor in the game the rest of the way.
Coach Stillman was impressed with his veteran forward.
“Shane’s battling, playing a 200-foot game,” said Stillman of his team’s plus-minus leader at plus-29. “He’s elevating his game at a time when we need him to do that and everybody’s seeing the player he’s starting to become.”
While it’s highly unlikely we could see a Sudbury-Oshawa matchup in Round 1 of the playoffs, it’s a possible second-round battle if they both get there. And it would be very entertaining.
“We want to get by the first one and see what happens,” laughed Stillman regarding that possibility, not wanting to look too far ahead. “They’re a good team, they have a lot of skill and at the start of the game they were out-competing us, out-battling us and playing very hard.”
The clubs played their first of four regular-season games way back on Sept. 28, with the Wolves winning 5-2 in Sudbury. They have two more upcoming, on March 2 in the Nickel City and March 17 in Oshawa — the very last game of the OHL’s regular season.
Up next for the Wolves will be a home and home on back-to-back nights with the Barrie Colts, on Friday at the Sudbury Community Arena and Saturday at the Molson Centre. They finish the weekend in Hamilton for a game on Sunday afternoon.