By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Generals
The Oshawa Generals are facing an uphill battle in their first-round playoff series against the Niagara IceDogs.
The Gens were in action Tuesday evening, after The Oshawa Express’ deadline, after losing the first two games of the series.
The series kicked off Friday, March 23 with Niagara picking up a 4-2 win.
Drew Hunter put the home team up at 9:31 of a first period which saw the Gens outshot 18 to nine.
Sam Miletic doubled the lead at 5:26 of the second, with assists from Danial Singer and Akil Thomas.
The Gens got on the board at 17:18 of the second, as Jack Studnicka scored shorthanded on a pass from Kenny Huether.
Niagara would extend its lead to three with Thomas and Ben Jones scoring a minute apart in the later half of the third period.
Matt Brassard pulled the Generals within two with a power play goal at 16:59 of the third, the closest they would get.
Studnicka picked up an assist and his second point of the night on the goal.
Despite outshooting the IceDogs 27-18 over the final two frames, Niagara’s Stephen Dhillon had a strong performance in net.
Oshawa’s Kyle Keyser stopped 32 of 36 shots in the loss.
Things didn’t get much better for the team in Game 2, as the IceDogs came away with a 6-1 win.
Despite the lopsided score, the Generals outshot the IceDogs 35 to 32, but could only manage to put one puck past Dhillon.
Allan McShane gave Oshawa a lead at 5:03 of the first, scoring on the man advantage, with Brassard and Hayden McCool picking up assists.
The Gens remained on top for the majority of the first period until Liam Ham tied the score at 18:39.
The game remained tied until 8:24 of the second when Niagara’s Adrian Carbonara put his team up for good.
Oshawa remained close going into the third when the offensive floodgates opened for the IceDogs.
Miletic extended the lead to 3-1 at 3:39, followed by Bradley Johnson a mere 31 seconds later.
Niagara would score twice more to put the game away.
Dhillon was especially strong in the third, setting aside 16 shots by Oshawa.
The biggest factor in the game was the IceDogs efficiency on the power play, scoring four times on nine man-advantages, while the Generals were one for 11.
Oshawa needs to step up its special teams performance, GM Roger Hunt told The Oshawa Express.
“We’ve got to bear down on both sides, and we’ve got to stay out of the box.”
Through the first two games of the series, the Gens power play was two for 15 (13 per cent) while Niagara was four for 12 (33 per cent).
Hunt was frank in calling Tuesday’s game the most important of the team’s season for far.
“The reality is if you go down 0-3, you’ve dug yourself the biggest hole possible,” he told The Oshawa Express. “If you can’t win game three of the first round, you’re not going to win anything.”
Hunt says while the Gens had flashes of solid play, it’s time to elevate their game.
“We need our best players to be our best players – everyone has a job to do, and they have to do their job to win the game.”
He credited fans at Niagara’s Meridian Centre for creating a “true home-ice advantage” and is optimistic that Gens Nation can do the same for them.
“It’s home cooking, and hopefully our fans behind us will be the thing to get us back in the series,” he says.
There is a strong recent playoff history between the Generals and the IceDogs, as the two teams have matched up four times since 2011, with both teams winning two series apiece.
In the most recent battle, Oshawa defeated Niagara four games to two during the team’s road to the 2015 OHL Championship, and eventually winning the Memorial Cup.
The fourth game of the series is set for Thursday, March 29 at the Tribute Communities Centre at 7:05 p.m.