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Gaels open playoff series with 3-2 win over Ottawa

February 20, 2014


Normally, the Queen’s Golden Gaels play a very deliberate hockey game. They might not always take the kind of shots that gave them a victory in their opening game of the playoffs.

Wednesday night they did.

Two goals in the third period by defenceman Chris Van Laren enabled the Gaels to overcome a one-goal deficit and secure a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees before a paltry Reading Week crowd of less than 100 at the Memorial Centre.

The win snapped an eight-game post-season losing streak, dating to the first game of the 2010 playoffs, for the Gaels, who have been eliminated in the first round four years in a row.

Queen’s will take a 1-0 lead into the second game of the best-of-three first-round series Friday in Ottawa. If a third game is necessary, it will be played Saturday night at the Memorial Centre.

Though they were skating well and emphatically playing the body, the Gaels were making things easy Wednesday night for Ottawa goaltender Robin Billingham. He faced just three shots in the first period and fewer than that in the first half of the second.

“That’s just not enough,” said Gaels coach Brett Gibson, who watched his team generate not a single shot during the 46 seconds it enjoyed a two-man advantage early in the second period.

Late in the period word went out on the Queen’s bench: Shoot the puck.

“He’s a smaller guy and he gives up a lot of rebounds,” Gibson said. “We just wanted to crash the net and in the last seven minutes of the second period we did. In the third period we got the shots we needed.”

Two of them came from Van Laren. Trailing 2-1 as an Ottawa penalty expired, the rookie defenceman, leading a rush, took a wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle and Billingham whiffed, as the puck went into the net high over the far — stick side — shoulder.

Less than two minutes later — and just 21 seconds into another Ottawa penalty — Van Laren let fly with a high slapshot from the blue line.

It isn’t necessarily the case that in either situation, the first option in the Queen’s scheme would be to shoot the puck, but after being outshot 22-9 in the first two periods, the Gaels got the message, outshooting the visitors 12-7 in the third.

“We weren’t getting to the areas we needed to get to to score,” Gibson said. “I wanted to see this goalie make some saves. He might want to have the second one back but I don’t think he had a chance on the third one.”

It took the Gee-Gees just 10 seconds of the game’s first penalty to score the only goal of the first period. The Gaels were by no means floundering but until the final few minutes of the second period they were creating no excitement around the Ottawa goal.

Then came a goal by Tyler Moore that tied the score with 11 seconds to play. He was set up at the side of the net after Andrew Wiebe stripped an Ottawa player of the puck on the heels of the Gaels missing a couple of good chances.

That goal was hugely important, Gibson said.

“When you hit a post and you have a net drive when you think the goal goes in (and it doesn’t), you can go into the (intermission) feeling like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if it’s our night or not,’” Gibson said.

“You would hope (that goal) would deflate them. Obviously, scoring a goal in the first minute of the third period it didn’t, but it gave us some life.”

Ottawa’s Alexandre Touchette scored his second goal of the game just 20 seconds into the final period to give his team a 2-1 lead. Touchette clearly enjoys playing against Queen’s; of the six goals the Gee-Gees have scored against the Gaels this season, he has three of them — not counting a shootout winner — and an assist.

Amid a flurry of penalties, the Gee-Gees didn’t mount a serious push in the final minute, despite pulling Billingham for a sixth skater.

After a superb start that had them in first place in the East division with a month to go in the regular season, the Gaels closed the campaign one game under .500 (5-6). Wednesday night they skated better, with more energy, than they had in a month.

“The last two games we played pretty well,” Gibson said. “Both games with Trois-Rivieres were really good. We were forced to skate because they’re so good. That gave us some confidence coming to play Ottawa, because they’re a quick team as well.”

Queen’s finished four points ahead of the Gee-Gees in the final standings, but they were teams going in opposite directions. Ottawa won its last five in a row, until their final game at Concordia was cancelled due to unplayable ice conditions. Queen’s lost two of its last three, one of them to last-place RMC.

Both games the teams played in the regular year were decided by a shootout, each in favour of the home team.

“It’s about as even a match as you can get,” Gibson said of the series. “I’m glad we got the first one.”

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