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KITCHENER - The Plymouth Whalers extended a 1-0 lead after one period with three unaswered goals in the second and the Whalers went on to defeat the Kitchener Rangers, 5-2, in an Ontario Hockey League game played Friday night before 6,377 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
The Whalers win their eighth straight game for the second time this season and improve to 45-17-2-1, good for 93 points with three games left in the regular season. Plymouth is two points behind London as the top seed in the Western Conference playoff race. London (now 47-16-0-1) beat Guelph, 5-1, on Friday and has 95 points with four games to play.
Kitchener is 39-22-1-1 and is firmly entrenched in the third seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
Jamie Devane emerged as the first star for Plymouth, scoring two goals in the second period (21-22) and assisting on Curits Crombeen's third goal of the year with 15 seconds left in the second period. Rickard Rakell scored a power play goal in the first period for the Whalers (his 27th) and Stefan Noesen added an empty net goal (team-leading 35th) with five seconds left in the game. Whalers goaltender Scott Wedgewood stopped 30-of-32 shots to record the victory.
Radek Faksa scored both Kitchener goals (25-26).
Additional coverage - Josh Brown, Kitchener-Waterloo Record.
Although Devane had a three-point night, he also was an important member of the Whalers penalty killing unit, which went 6-for-7 against the Kitchener power play. The Whalers power play went 2-for-4 and clicked on the first two Plymouth goals.
Plymouth controlled play in the first period, outshooting Kitchener, 15-7. Rakell scored the only goal of the period on a Plymouth power play at 4:44, redirecting Austin Levi's shot from the right wing past Kitchener goaltender John Gibson from the lower rim of the right circle.
The Whalers started to pull away in the second period and Devane was in the middle of it, figuring in on all three Plymouth goals. Working on a power play, Devane tipped Noesen's shot from the left wing past Gibson at 15:17. 1:30 later, Devane gobbled up a Gibson rebound from a Cody Payne shot and scored on a backhand from the lower rim of the right circle at 16:47. Devane then assisted on Crombeen's goal at 19:45 - a play that was set up by Mitchell Heard, who carried the puck into the Kitchener zone to the top of the right circle and then found Crombeen breaking for the front of the Kitchener goal. Crombeen scored on a redirect in front of Gibson.
Trailing 4-0 at the start of the third period, Kitchener cut the Plymouth lead in half with Faksa's pair at 4:01 and 4:41. But the Plymouth penalty killers and Wedgewood went to work to preserve the lead, killing off Tom Wilson's double minor for high sticking at 7:42. In fact, Plymouth outshot Kitchener, 15-10, in the third period.
Kitchener head coach Steve Spott pulled Gibson for the extra attacker with 1:15 left and then called time-out with 1:01 left and a face off in the Plymouth zone. But the Whalers held on and scored on the empty net when Meurs took the puck from a Kitchener defender and found Noesen at the hash marks in the Kitchener zone.
Audio - Listen to the final minute of play.
The Whalers have won three straight games at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, dating back to Game 7 last season in the Western Conference Quarterfinals (4-3 on April 4, 2011), to go along with a 6-1 win at the Aud on Jan. 13 and Friday's victory.
Plymouth's other eight-game winning streak this season ran from Nov. 6-23.
Plymouth returns home Sunday to host Owen Sound at 2 p.m. at (1:50 p.m., www.plymouthwhalers.com).