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BRAMPTON, Ont. – The Brampton Battalion gave the Niagara IceDogs everything they could handle in the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, and that was the Troops’ problem. The IceDogs could handle it.
Brock Beukeboom and Andrew Agozzino scored first-period goals to launch Niagara to a 3-1 victory Thursday night and a four-game sweep of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Tom Kuhnhackl scored one goal and added one assist for first-seeded Niagara, while Ryan Strome contributed two assists. Goaltender Mark Visentin, who recorded his league-leading eighth win of the postseason, made 34 saves.
Niagara has eliminated the Battalion in four games in two consecutive years, having ousted the Troops in a first-round series in 2011.
The IceDogs will face either the Ottawa 67’s or Barrie Colts in the conference final. Barrie defeated visiting Ottawa 3-2 Thursday night to take a 3-1 series lead.
Patrik Machac scored for the fourth-seeded Battalion, while goaltender Matej Machovsky faced 21 shots before a crowd of 2,228.
“We battled hard,” said coach Stan Butler, who had the Troops well prepared for the high-octane IceDogs. “For the most part we executed pretty well tonight, played a pretty good game, but there’s no doubt they made us pay for any mistakes we made.
“Obviously, we didn’t get off to the start we wanted, but we got that late goal in the second period, and it gave us some momentum.
“We had lots of chances in the third period, but you have to give Visentin credit. He was really good tonight. They probably had only one scoring chance in the third, but they put it in the back of our net. That’s because they’re such a skilled team.”
Kuhnhackl connected when he knocked home a Strome pass at the edge of the crease at 5:17 of the third period. Strome, working on the left-wing boards with Freddie Hamilton, took a pass from Hamilton and cut to the middle to slip the puck to Kuhnhackl, stationed to Machovsky’s left.
With the Battalion desperate to cut into the 3-1 deficit, Visentin produced several outstanding saves the rest of the way as the home side outshot Niagara 16-4 in the period.
Included was an acrobatic stop against Jamie Lewis from the top of the crease at 17:21. Lewis pounced on the rebound of a Matt MacLeod shot from deep in the slot but was denied by Visentin’s outstretched glove.
Philip Lane cut to the net in the 13th minute to redirect a Machac pass, but Visentin sprawled out with the right pad to kick away the attempt.
Defenceman Beukeboom opened the scoring 10:11 into the game, firing a shot from the top of the right circle over Machovsky’s short-side shoulder. Strome spun off a defender and pulled up on a left-wing rush before sending a cross-zone pass to Beukeboom.
Agozzino then converted on a one-timer from the slot at 15:01 of the period. David Pacan outworked Sam Carrick on the end boards and fed the puck to the onrushing Agozzino.
Alex Friesen also was credited with an assist, extending a playoff points streak to a league-leading 10 games, during which he has registered six goals and 11 assists for 17 points.
Carrick had the Battalion’s best scoring opportunity of the frame in the ninth minute, driving to the net out of the right corner and attempting to slide the puck under Visentin’s right pad.
Carrick made a nifty move around Luke Mercer on a left-wing rush in the seventh minute and drove to the net only to be denied in an effort to put the puck over Visentin.
The Troops did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill midway in the second period, killing a two-man disadvantage lasting 57 seconds after Carrick received a ridiculous goaltender interference penalty and Ian Watters was called for hooking. Machovsky foiled power-play attempts by Kuhnhackl and Jamie Oleksiak.
Brenden Miller sent a cross-zone feed to Barclay Goodrow inside the left circle, but Visentin slid across to deny Goodrow an open net during a Battalion power play.
Machac scored with the man advantage at 19:35, skating into a Zach Bell point shot and tipping the puck past Visentin. Cameron Wind slid the disc across to Bell, who released a quick shot from the right point.
“It’s one of those series where, when you look back, although they beat us four straight, the games for the most part were pretty hard games and pretty close games,” said Butler. “Hockey is a game of momentum, and you always have those ‘what ifs’. Maybe if you win that first game in overtime, that gives you the confidence that you need to turn the momentum in your favour.”
The Battalion scratched Spencer Abraham, Geoff Bezruchko, Andreas Tsogkas and Alex O’Neil. Niagara scratches were Trevor Petersen, Milan Doudera, Mitch Bennett and Adam Desautels.
BATTALION NOTEBOOK: The crowd was the largest of four this postseason. The vast majority of fans stayed to the end and afforded the team a standing ovation for a season in which the Troops confounded prognosticators who foresaw them missing the playoffs … The Battalion went 1-for-2 on the power play. Niagara, which scored one power-play goal in the series, on a two-man advantage in Game 3, was 0-for-5 … Each team iced the same lineup in all four games. The IceDogs, who won home games 2-1 in overtime and 6-3, prevailed 3-1 in their first visit to Brampton … Opening line combinations included Carrick centring left winger Brandon Robinson and right winger Goodrow, Mitchell Porowski pivoting left winger Watters and right winger Lane and Lewis centring left winger Brett Mackie and right winger MacLeod. Machac centred Connor Jarvis on left wing and Derek Froats on right wing … Rookie Machac scored his first OHL playoff goal … Carrick played his 41st playoff game, tying the club record held by Cody Hodgson, Brad Albert and Scott Tanski. With seven goals and seven assists for 14 points, Carrick is tied with Josh Day and Ken Peroff for 16th place in career playoff scoring for the Troops … Mackie saw the end of a six-game points streak in which he had six points, all assists … Overage left wingers Mackie, Watters and Porowski played the final game of their OHL careers … Three Battalion picks in the OHL Priority Selection last Saturday were at the game. Defenceman Kyle Wood was taken in the third round from the Waterloo Wolves minor midgets. Centre Jake Coughler was a 14th-round pick from the Brampton Battalion minor midgets and Alexander Mutton a 15th-rounder from the Cambridge Hawks minor midgets.