Toffoli, 67's tame 'Dogs

AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:56 AM ET

With Game One of their opening round series deadlocked at 3-3 heading into the final period, the Ottawa 67’s needed someone to step up and put the team on his back.

Tyler Toffoli did just that, driving through a trio of Niagara defenders and banking a shot in off IceDogs goaltender Mark Visentin from behind the net for the winning goal at 16:39 of the third period, putting Ottawa up 1-0 in their quarter-final series Friday night at Urbandale Centre.

The highlight-reel goal capped a three-point evening for Toffoli, who also netted the tying goal with 43 seconds left in the second period, and added an assist on Dalton Smith’s first career playoff goal.

Ottawa opened their series against Niagara on the right foot this time around, after dropping last year’s opener to these same IceDogs en route to a seven-game playoff defeat.

“Before the game we all knew that we lost the first game last year, so we wanted to come out hard and get the first win and go from there, so I think it was a really important win,” said Toffoli. “We had a good start, and the hard work that we’ve done all year really showed, and we stuck with it and came out with the win.”

Niagara captain Andrew Agozzino, who Ottawa fans remember as the guy who ended the 67’s playoff hopes last year with his Game 7 overtime winner, had his chances to add to his reputation in this town as public enemy No. 1.

“I’ve always felt comfortable playing in this rink and when you have these great memories you always look forward to coming to play in this rink,” said Agozzino, who also scored his first career OHL goal in Ottawa as a rookie. “I’ve had success here and I’m just hoping to go with it.”

Agozzino had a chance to twist the dagger he plunged in the hearts of Ottawa fans on the game’s first shift, stabbing at a point shot rebound that trickled along the goal line on its way through the crease.

But it was Ottawa that struck first, as Cody Lindsay showed his determination and skill intercepting a clearing attempt from Dougie Hamilton, then from his knees, centring a pass to Anthony Nigro, streaking into the fray on a line change and slamming the puck into the open side.

Lindsay and Toffoli, with Dalton Smith on the left wing, were forced to play on both sides of the puck, as the line was charged with the task of shutting down Niagara’s potent scoring threat of Agozzino with Alex Friesen and Freddie Hamilton.

“They’re a small, quick line and we just have to work harder than they do to contain them,” said Toffoli. “We worked hard every shift we had out there, and we had to not only work the offence but in the defensive zone as well.”

After a tight-checking first period, things opened up with a five-goal outburst in the second, including three quick strikes in a span of 2:40, and Niagara took full advantage of the chances the 67’s defence handed them.

Josh Moes got Niagara on the board, outbattling Tyler Cuma in the crease and redirecting a power-play point blast from Matt Petgrave at the six-minute mark.

Dalton Smith put Ottawa back on top 99 seconds later, ripping a Lindsay feed that nailed Visentin in the head, knocking his mask off as the puck bounced in behind the startled goaltender.

But Niagara struck back 1:01 later, as Friesen dumped the puck into the Ottawa corner and drew both Ottawa defenders to him on the recovery.

As Cuma and Julien Demers converged on Friesen, the puck squirted loose to Agozzino, who cruised in unchecked and picked his spot glove side on Perugini.

Agozzino then put his team up 3-2 on a breakaway out of the penalty box after the 67’s failed to convert on a flurry of power-play chances.

As his hooking penalty expired, the speedy Niagara captain grabbed a seeing-eye pass in stride and took a long look on the breakaway before sliding the puck under Perugini.

Toffoli got the home side back on even footing with 43 seconds left in the period, backhanding a weak shot that Visentin kicked into his own net, setting up Toffoli's late-game heroics.

“(Niagara) played a great road game and got some chances and buried some pucks in a hurry,” said 67’s coach Chris Byrne. “We saw some of their dangerous guys get loose and do a great job. Hats off to our guys for coming back and sticking with it, not getting negative and finding a way to win.”

Game Two goes Sunday afternoon at Urbandale Centre.

aedan.helmer@sunmedia.ca


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