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Ottawa 67’s skate to Game Two victory over Bulldogs

Brantford BulldogsOttawa 67's skate to Game Two victory over Bulldogs

The Ottawa 67’s defeated the Brantford Bulldogs 6-3 to even up their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece on Sunday, March 31, 2024. 

In the spirit of Easter, the Bulldogs got off to a hopping start in the game’s opening minute. At 61 seconds, left winger Patrick Thomas hustled along the left side boards in the Bulldogs attacking zone and made the quick dish pass to right winger Nick Lardis. Lardis would then connect on a wide-open pass to centreman Florian Xhekaj, going top-shelf past 67’s netminder Collin MacKenzie for a 1-0 lead. It was the first goal of the playoffs for the man known by fans as the “Sheriff of Brantford,” and Lardis and Thomas assisted on the goal.

Bulldogs RW Calvin Crombie gets tied up with 67’s C Braeden Kressler early in the first period on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Ottawa tried to respond shortly after as left winger Cooper Foster drove the puck down towards the Brantford goal, but netminder Matteo Drobac made his first big save in the night with a great left-pad save. As the period progressed, the Bulldogs got into penalty trouble, going to the penalty box three straight times at one point. Led by Drobac, the Bulldogs penalty kill units managed to salvage their one-goal lead. 

Bulldogs G Matteo Drobac keeps a close eye on 67’s LW Cooper Foster during first period action on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

But the 67’s tied the game with 2:29 remaining. The play started after defenceman Derek Smyth blocked the shot from Bulldogs centreman Lawson Sherk in their zone, leading to defenceman Thomas Sirman taking the puck and skating down to the Bulldogs zone. Sirman would then pass the puck to Foster, who then passed the puck to right winger Caden Kelly for the shot centre of the zone. Drobac stopped Kelly’s shot, but Foster snagged the rebound and shot the puck off the sprawling Bulldogs netminder and into the net.

The 67’s would take the lead 36 seconds later, courtesy of a lucky redirection in front of the Bulldogs net by defenceman Frankie Marrelli after the initial shot from left winger Chris Barlas. After the first twenty minutes of play, the 67’s lead the Bulldogs 2-1.

Bulldogs RW Nick Lardis rips a shot from the circle on 67’s G Collin Mackenzie during second period action on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

In the second period, the Bulldogs got into the five-on-three powerplay less than a minute into the period for 56 seconds. Still, they were unable to solve the Ottawa netminder MacKenzie. 

At 3:27, the Bulldogs finally solved MacKenzie in the middle frame. After the faceoff, the 67’s attempted to clear the puck off the boards misfired and onto the stick of right winger Calvin Crombie, who went top shelf past MacKenzie to tie the game at two. This was Crombie’s second career OHL playoff goal in only his second OHL playoff game. 

Despite the Bulldogs’ offensive pressure in the opening minutes of the period, outshooting the 67s 4-1 in the first 4:16, their miscue on the power play proved to be the turning point of the game. The miscue occurred at 6:29 after Bulldogs defenceman Lucas Moore made an errant pass to the 67’s centreman Jacob Maillet in their zone. Maillet found streaking left winger Luca Pinelli, who rifled the puck past the right side of Bulldogs netminder Drobac for a 3-2 Ottawa lead.

Bulldogs C Jake O’Brien tries to go between two 67’s defenders late in the second period on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

Brantford’s lack of discipline continued to be on display in the latter half of the period, and the 67’s managed to take advantage as they doubled their lead on the power play with 3:07 remaining. Pinelli skated with the puck down to their attacking zone and made the quick feed to right winger Jack Dever. Dever then dished the puck to the wide-open defenceman Samuel Mayer at the left faceoff circle, and Mayer fired the puck up close and past the sprawling Bulldogs Drobac for the 4-2 lead.

Bulldogs LW Marek Vanacker speeds past 67’s D Samuel Mayer before getting hooked and losing control of the puck late in the second period.

As the period wound down, Bulldogs centreman Florian Xhekaj tried to ignite the Bulldogs as he fought and beat 67’s defenceman Matthew Mayich at centre ice. The crowd of 3,167 roared in appreciation for their fan favourite, and Xhekaj gestured to the fans as a sign of gratitude. 

The third period proved a defensive standstill, and the Bulldogs couldn’t muster another comeback effort. Bulldogs made only one trip to the powerplay in the final frame, but they struggled to push against the strong Ottawa penalty kill and goaltending from Collin MacKenzie, going 0 for 6 in the entire game.

Bulldogs C Patrick Thomas and RW Zakary Lavoie team up to battle with 67’s C Braeden Kressler along the boards during third period action on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

But the Bulldogs made things interesting with 4:04 to play. Bulldogs versatile defenceman/forward Adrian Rebelo’s shot went wide. Still, the puck bounced off the back boards and right onto the stick of left winger Patrick Thomas at the Ottawa crease and beat the 67’s netminder to close the deficit to 4-3. The officials then reviewed the goal for over two minutes, but the goal stood. Rebelo and Xhekaj were credited with the assists.

Bulldogs netminder Matteo Drobac would make two crucial saves on the 67’s Pinelli shortly after the Thomas goal, keeping the Bulldogs in the game. Drobac provided another quality performance between the pipes for the Bulldogs, stopping 26 out of 30 Ottawa shots. 

Bulldogs LW Adrian Rebelo rips a shot on goal during third period action on Sunday, March 31, 2024.

With 2:01 left, the Bulldogs called Matteo Drobac to the bench for an extra attacker. Although the Bulldogs made an effort for the game-tying goal, the 67’s capitalized on a deflection, and left winger Cooper Foster’s empty-net goal sealed the win for the visitors. Centreman Braden Kressler would then add one more empty-net goal with fourteen seconds left, giving the 67’s the 6-3 win as the series heads to the nation’s capital for game three.

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