The second game of the OHL finals got off to much the same start as the first.
The Niagara Ice Dogs controlled most of the play through the opening minutes, but failed to get much in the way of dangerous chances, while the London Knights relied on their bottom-nine forwards more to shut down Niagara's top unit featuring Josh Ho-Sang.
Special teams played a big role in the period, as eight minor penalties were called, which meant that Leafs' prospect Mitch Marner played continuously for long stretches of the opening frame, as he and linemate Christian Dvorak continued to be the team's go-to duo for penalty killing, and they both played with Matthew Tkachuk on the Knights' main power play unit.
Similar to the unfolding of the first game, the Ice Dogs struck first to open the scoring. Centreman Stephen Harper picked up the goal with a slap shot from the blue line that found the top half of the net behind Knights' goalie Tyler Parsonsn just 6:04 into the period.
Things started to get chippy, with all kinds of extra pushing and shoving going on after whistles, more often than not with Tkachuk in the middle of things.
Then, with the Knights on the power play with 1:16 left to go in the first 20 minutes, Marner shifted his way through the Niagara penalty killing unit to find Tkachuk open in front of the net, and Tkachuk buried the shot after a brief scramble. It was 1-1 heading into the first intermission with the shots 8-7 for the Knights.
Unfortunately for London, Tkachuk went off injured after the play, unable to put any weight on his left leg. Although he did not return immediately for the start of the second period, he made an appearance just over four minutes in, skating somewhat gingerly.
The Knights came out fighting to start the second period, and extra-curricular activity continued to get worse and worse, with Tkachuk continuing to get under the skin of the Ice Dogs' entire lineup. The Knights, having been out-shot in the first, started hammering shots at Alex Nedeljkovic to bulid a 16-10 lead in that department.
It took until the halfway point of the period, but the Knights finally extended their lead, with Victor Mete starting off the rush with a long pass to J.J. Piccinich, who banked a pass to Owen MacDonald, who fired a low wrister past Nedeljkovic to make it 3-1 Knights.
Niagara struggled to mount much of a push-back as their minor penalty infractions continued to pile up, with another three penalties going against them in the period, while London didn't take any.
It was Tkachuk who put in a fantastic individual effort with a Niagara defenceman draped all over him down below the goal line that lead to Mete's 4-1 goal. Tkachuk circled around behind the net, and curled out front while being dragged down, but still managed to sweep the puck to a wide-open Mete, who finished the play off into an empty net.
The Ice Dogs eventually found their way back into the London end to bring the shot total to 19-16 Knights, but with Tkachuk running around providing a massive distraction, they were unable to generate too much offensive zone possession time.
The Knights just kept coming to start the third period started as Christian Dvorak snapped home a shot on a feed from Daniel Bernhardt just 1:10 into the final frame to make it 5-1 London.
Things unraveled entirely for the Ice Dogs when defenceman Vince Dunn skated up to the ref who was just about to drop the puck on the following faceoff and screamed in his face. Dunn got a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct and then less than a minute into the penalty, Aleksander Mikulovich took an interference penalty to give the Knights a 5-on-3 for over a minute.
Marner and Tkachuck criss-crossed in the high slot with the puck and Tkachuk scored his third of the night to deepen the Ice Dogs' misery and make it 6-1 at 2:25. The Tkachuk-Dvorak-Marner line would not play another shift in the game, and would instead be rested by coach Dale Hunter.
At the end of three periods, the Ice Dogs had only managed a 28-25 lead in shots and had only done so while facing the Piccinich line for most of the remaining time.
The series now goes back to the Niagara peninsula, where the Knights will threaten to sweep the Ice Dogs.
Quick player notes:
- Mitchell Marner was quieter this game offensively, but still had two assists to show for his efforts. His defensive game was better than in Game 1, and he was starting to fall back for defenders more frequently, block shots, and break up plays.
- J.J. Piccinich picked up an assist as well tonight, and played against Josh Ho-Sang and the Ice Dogs' top unit to shut them down. After the Knights' top line sat down for the rest of the game, it was Piccinich's trio who took the brunt of the shutdown minutes, and he did well at closing down defensively. His line continues to frustrate Niagara.