In their final game of the calendar year, the 67's took over first place in the Eastern Conference’s L-East Division.
Whether they stay there until the end of 2009 depends at least partly on how last night’s opponents respond to the beating.
Led by a three-point game from Cody Lindsay, the 67’s dumped the Belleville Bulls 4-2 in front of 7,900 fans at the Urbandale Centre last night.
Lindsay, who is well on his way to a career year, overtook Martindale for the team scoring lead. He now has 42 points in 38 games.
“I think I’m in the best shape of my life,” said the 19-year-old. “That has a lot to do with it. But playing with guys like Tyler Toffoli, and (Anthony) Nigro and (Dalton) Smith, you just pass them the puck and they’re going to put it in the net, no matter what.”
The win improved the 67’s record to 18-15-3-2 and, with 41 points, moved them one up on Peterborough.
“It’s one of the goals we set for our division, to come out on top,” said Lindsay. “We had a bit of a rough start and it was looking like it was a long battle uphill, but we got there and now we’ve got to try and stay there by beating teams in our division and conference.”
The Petes host the last-place Bulls in an attempt to reclaim top spot on New Year’s Eve.
Chris Perugini made 26 saves for the 67’s, who were without injured veterans Tyler Cuma, Corey Cowick and Jon Carnevale, plus rookie Cody Ceci, who’s at the under-17 tournament in Timmins.
The line of Smith, Lindsay and Toffoli proved to be too much for the Bulls, combining for six points and a late second-period goal that put Ottawa up by a pair heading into the final 20 minutes.
Toffoli didn’t get an assist on the play, but it was his pressure on Belleville’s Cody Alcock that forced a turnover to Smith in the high slot. His wrist shot toward the net hit Lindsay and dribbled past Bulls goalie Philipp Grubauer.
A double high-sticking minor to 67’s defenceman Travis Gibbons early in the third led to some interesting moments at both ends of the ice. Gibbons had barely settled into the box with Thomas Nesbitt and Ryan Martindale broke in on Grubauer, only to have their chances denied.
Perugini made a few sharp stops of his own during the penalty before Martindale had another break that was turned back by Grubauer, who was solid throughout the night.
Michael Curtis closed the gap on an odd-man rush with 10:21 left, but the two-goal lead was restored when Nigro sent Martindale in alone with a beautiful pass 64 seconds later. The goal was Martindale’s 14th of the season.
The 67’s, who led 2-1 after one, opened the scoring 8:48 into the game when Smith cashed in a rebound after Grubauer made an original stop off Lindsay.
The Bulls tied things five minutes later with a short-handed goal by Luke Judson, but Ottawa reclaimed the lead with a goal less than two minutes from the intermission. Teeing it up once again was Lindsay, who took a pass off the sideboards from Brian Birkoff, then fed Toffoli on the right wing. He turned the opportunity into his team- leading 23rd goal.
The 67’s penalty kill was a perfect 10-for-10, with defencemen Julien Demers and Marc-Anthony Zanetti providing a sturdy backbone.
The 67’s are on a three-games-in-three-days road trip this weekend that starts with a matinee in Oshawa New Year’s Day, then continues with stops in Owen Sound and Mississauga. Their next home game is a week from Friday, when the Bulls will again provide the opposition.