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Bulldogs force game six with home win over Ottawa 67’s

Brantford BulldogsBulldogs force game six with home win over Ottawa 67's

The Brantford Bulldogs kept their season alive with a 4-2 win over the Ottawa 67’s in game five of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The two teams played tight defence for the first eight minutes in the first period. At 9:21, the Bulldogs struck first, courtesy of the power play. Forward Zakary Lavoie passed the pucks from the left side boards to left winger Patrick Thomas near the Ottawa blue line. Thomas sent the puck to forward Nick Lardis, who shot the puck that 67’s netminder Collin MacKenzie initially stopped. Still, the puck bounced off the stick of centreman Florian Xhekaj and back to Lardis and made no mistake as his shot went past the sprawling MacKenzie. The goal was Lardis fourth of the playoffs, with Xhekaj and Thomas getting the assists.

Bulldogs D Lucas Moore takes 67’s LW Cooper Foster hard into the boards very early in the first period of game five on Saturday, April 6. 2024.

Coming off a tough outing in game four, Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac was looking for a bounce-back performance with the season on the line. With 8:20 left in the period, Drobac faced his first tough test of the game. 67’s defenceman Derek Smyth made a wide-open pass from their blue line to left winger Lucas Pinelli, who shot up close, but Drobac made the first big save. Seconds later, Drobac’s pass attempt was intercepted in front of the crease by centreman Jacob Maillet, only for Drobac to recover in time for another big stop after Maillet’s shot in goal. The overage netminder from Oakville, Ontario, would stop all eleven 67’s shots on goal in the first twenty minutes.

Bulldogs C Florian Xhekaj deflects a shot in front of 67’s G Collin Mackenzie during first period action on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Brantford extended its lead to a pair before the end of the period. With 33.4 seconds left, Thomas intercepted the puck in the neutral zone and made the short feed on centre ice to Lavoie, who skated to the left circle in the Ottawa zone and fired the puck past the right side of MacKenzie for his third of the playoffs. Thomas picked up his second assist of the game on Lavoie’s goal. 

Bulldogs RW Nick Lardis fires a shot on goal while on a first period powerplay during game five on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Both sides were again tight defensively throughout the second period, only to allow seven shots each. The Bulldogs were penalized twice in the middle frame, but their penalty kill unit, ranked seventh in the OHL playoffs coming into the game, successfully killed off both Ottawa power plays in the middle frame.

The 67’s scored in the second period’s final minute for the second straight game. Centreman Jack Dever intercepted the puck in the Bulldogs zone and delivered a slapshot past the right shoulder of Drobac to cut the lead to one heading into the third period. 

Bulldogs C Ben Bujold chases after a loose puck in the neutral zone early in the second period of game five on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The “Sheriff of Brantford” took over the contest in the third period. With 9:22 remaining, defenceman Owen Protz tossed the puck along the left side boards on centre ice, where Patrick Thomas would get the puck. From the Ottawa blue line, the left winger found Xhekaj wide open at the other side, made the pass, and Xhekaj deaked Ottawa netminder MacKenzie for his second of the playoffs. Thomas notched his third assist of the game, and Protz notched his first career OHL playoff point. Ottawa drew one back less than ninety seconds later. Defenceman Matthew Mayich shoots the puck from the Brantford blue line, but Brady Stonehouse tipped the shot in front of Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac to cut the Bulldogs lead to 4-3.

Bulldogs C Florian Xhekaj rips a shot on goal from the slot early in the second period on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Controversy arose in a pivotal moment of the game with 4:15 left in regulation. The Ottawa 67’s believed they tied the game on the Cooper Foster goal. Still, the official overturned it following a successful coaches challenge by Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee due to goaltending interference from right winger Kimi Korbler on Drobac in the crease. 

Bulldogs D Lucas Moore skates in from the point and fires a shot on 67’s G Collin Mackenzie during second period action on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The Bulldogs iced the game with just over thirty seconds left. With the Ottawa net empty, Bulldogs centreman Xhekaj blocked Ottawa centreman Braeden Kressler’s shot in the left circle and shot the puck from near the Bulldogs blue line and into the empty net for his second goal of the period and third of the playoffs. 

Bulldogs C Ben Bujold narrowly misses finishing off a three-on-two scoring chance during second period action on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

The Ottawa offence pressured to get the game close with the extra attacker again, but Drobac delivered his finest saves of the night, stopping both Dever and Stonehouse with highlight-reeling pad saves. Drobac stopped 26 out of 28 Ottawa shots on goal in the most significant victory of the Bulldogs season. 

Bullodgs G Matteo Drobac makes one of his 26 saves in the game early in the third period of game five on Saturday, April 6, 2024.
Bulldogs D Cedricson Okitundu and 67’s D Matthew Mayich battle for position in front of Bulldogs G Matteo Drobac late in the second period on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

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