One of the Plymouth Whalers' leading traits for success over the last couple of seasons has been the ability to overcome a deficit in the third period.
One Tuesday, the Whalers did it again, scoring four goals in the third period to erase a 2-0 Kitchener lead and the Whalers went on to defeat the Rangers, 4-3, at to take a two-games-to-one lead in their Western Conference semifinals series with Kitchener.
After the game, the two teams left immediately for Kitchener and will play Game 4 tonight in Kitchener (6:45 p.m., WSDP-FM, 88.1).
For two periods, Kitchener played an excellent road game. Backstopped by John Gibson's goaltending and captain Michael Catenacci's two goals, the Rangers appeared to have control of the game. For a time, it looked like the road team would win for the third straight game in the series.
But the Whalers were able to get through to Gibson, the current Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Week, with four goals in the third period.
Trailing 2-0 at the start of the period, Plymouth’s comeback started with a wrist shot by Tom Wilson that caught Gibson moving and Wilson scored, five-hole, from the left circle at 1:10.
Plymouth kept coming and tied the game at 2-2 on a good fundamental play at 13:28. Second star Rickard Rakell – who assisted on the first three Plymouth goals in the period – won a faceoff in the Kitchener zone and found first star Austin Levi at the right point. Levi, who played a strong defensive game, took a low shot that had eyes and found the back of the net to tie the game.
Plymouth took their first lead of the game 1:21 later. Rakell – skating into the Kitchener zone – found defenseman Dario Trutmann following the play as the late man. Trutmann waited for a split second, and then snapped a shot inside the left post at 14:49 to give Plymouth a 3-2 lead.
As it turned out, the Whalers needed another goal and received it on Alex Aleardi’s fifth of the playoffs at 18:01. The goal came off a scramble and traffic in front of Gibson. Mitchell Heard, at the side of the net, found Aleardi near the blue paint and the former Ranger scored on a back hand while falling to the ice to give the Whalers a 4-2 lead.
Kitchener came back with 0:32 seconds left and Gibson pulled to cut the Plymouth lead to 4-3 on Catenacci's hat trick.
Kitchener couldn't get any closer and the Whalers had another comeback victory to put their first lead in the series.
Plymouth outshot Kitchener, 41-30
An NHL scout speaks
Anaheim scout Jim Sandlak smiles a lot these days. He's watching Anaheim drafts John Gibson and Rickard Rakell go head-to-head in the Plymouth-Kitchener series.
"I think Gibson's so calm, cool, collected and poised in his net and he gives his team a chance to win every night," Sandlak said. "I'm proud that's he's an Anaheim Ducks prospect."
Sandlak had praise for Rakell, who played his best game in the series on Tuesday.
"The scale for him is upwards and upwards only," Sandlak said. "He's got skill, talent and hockey sense. He's another guy I'm super-proud of. Rakell's a star in the making. He's got all the tools to make it to the next level."
All NHL scouts are watching Tom Wilson (15th) and Cody Payne (146th) for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
"Wilson is a competitor, a warrior and a typical power forward that every NHL club is looking for," Sandlak said. "He continues to get better and better with each viewing that I see him."
Payne played his best game on the series Sunday in Kitchener and is seeing increased ice time, playing mostly on a line with Andy Bathgate and Jamie Devane.
"I think Cody's really turned the corner siince coming over from Oshawa," Sandlak said. "Mike Vellucci does one heckuva good job with his players, whether it's de-progamming them, or just getting them to play the style of hockey that the Whalers play. Cody's really impressed me of late as well."
Representatives from 16 NHL teams attended Tuesday's game.