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Bulldogs rally past Kitchener Rangers in overtime

Brantford BulldogsBulldogs rally past Kitchener Rangers in overtime

Nick Lardis’ hat trick capped off the come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Kitchener Rangers on Saturday, December 9, 2023.

The Bulldogs started the game on the right note. Right off the faceoff at the 9:10 mark, centreman Florian Xhekaj won the draw, passed the puck to left winger Patrick Thomas, then made a hard cross-ice pass to right winger Nick Lardis, who fired his signature laser slap shot from the middle of the attack zone past Rangers netminder Tristan Malbeouf. Thomas and Xhekaj assisted Lardis’ 21st of the year.

The Bulldogs’ fortunes turned downwards a few minutes later as defenceman Noah Roberts was called for a four-minute, high-sticking penalty. Despite the intense efforts by the penalty kill unit and starting netminder Matteo Drobac, the Bulldogs couldn’t hold off the Rangers threat as Matthew Sop tucked the loose rebound past Drobac at 16:28.

The score remained one apiece, mainly due to Drobac making nine saves out of ten shots in the opening period.

Bulldogs D Jorian Donovan (75) battles for the puck along the boards with Rangers LW Trent Swick (57) in the first period.

Kitchener opened the floodgates in the second period by exploiting the Bulldogs’ miscues. It began with 7:52 remaining as Rangers defenceman Matthew Andonovski shot the puck wide open to the top shelf left side of Drobac for a 2-1 lead. Less than a minute later, the Rangers expanded their lead. Ultimately, Bulldogs defenceman Lucas Moore gave away the puck from the backboards. It went off an incoming Xhekaj, only to have right winger Justin Bottineau shoot past the unsuspected Drobac.

Bulldogs RW Nick Lardis and company were all smiles after the Lardis goal halfway through the first period.

Rangers would then cement their strong play in the second period with 4:37 remaining, as right winger Luca Romano’s shot hit the boards, then bounced off the skate Bulldogs’ Moore and under the left pad of Drobac for a 4-1 Rangers lead.

When the period concluded, the Rangers, like the Bulldogs on Friday, had a commanding lead after forty minutes. Everything was going in the right direction for the top team in the Ontario Hockey League. 

But in the third period, the momentum started to turn in the home team’s favour. This time, it was the Bulldogs turn.

The Bulldogs’ comeback began on the powerplay at 4:06, as left winger Patrick Thomas sent a sharp, cross-ice pass to linemate right winger Nick Lardis, whose shot goes on the right side of Malbeouf for his second of the game and 22nd of the season. Thomas notched his second assist of the night, and forward Jake O’Brien was also credited with the assist.

Bulldogs C Lawson Sherk (39) gets tied up along the boards by Rangers D Roman Schmidt (27) during second period action.

Under four minutes later, the Bulldogs closed the deficit to a goal. The Bulldogs offence generated pressure in front of the Rangers’ net. It paid dividends at 7:56 as Thomas took advantage of the Rangers’ defensive miscue in the crease, jamming the loose puck past Malbeouf for his seventh goal of the year. Lardis recorded his third point of the night with the assist, and Florian Xhekaj also got his second assist of the game.

The Bulldogs would then erase the deficit with 9:29 remaining in regulation. Defenceman Tomas Hamara dished the puck from the far end of their zone to a wide-open right winger, Calvin Crombie, whose shot was initially stopped. Still, the puck then deflected off the hand of Rangers’ Antonino Pugliese and passed Malbeouf. Hamara received the assist on Crombie’s sixth goal of the season.

Bulldogs LW Cole Brown (92) and C Lawson Sherk (39) tangle with Rangers D Hunter Brzustewicz (4) and LW Kyle Morey (23) in front of Rangers netminder Tristan Malbeouf (29) in the third period.

Later in the period, Kitchener had a golden opportunity to take the lead with the man advantage, thanks to the Bulldogs’ left-winger Cole Brown’s penalty. Fortunately for the home crowd of 3,147, the solid effort by penalty kill units and the play of Matteo Drobac in goal kept the game tied.

The game went to a five-minute three-on-three overtime, with the Bulldogs having momentum following a solid showing in the third period, outshooting the Rangers 12-3.

After both teams exchanged a shot on goal, Lardis would send the fans home happy. With less than a minute to play in the extra frame, centreman Florian Xhekaj gave the puck off the boards to Lardis, who then found the gap in the Rangers defence and rifled the puck upstairs past Malbeouf for the winner. Xhekaj tallied his third point of the night, and defenceman Jorian Donovan got credit with the secondary assist on the first-ever hat trick in the Brantford era. 

Bulldogs players celebrate RW Nick Lardis game-winning goal in overtime.

Next up for the Bulldogs is a home game against the Barrie Colts on Friday, December 15, 2023, which is the club’s annual Teddy Bear Toss event.

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