With just seven games now left before the playoffs, the fourth-place Jr. A Niagara Predators continue to fight to break away from a three-team logjam.
A 7-0 victory last Friday at home over the St. George Ravens raised hopes of putting some space between the Predators and the two teams trying to catch them – the Ravens and the Northumberland Stars.
But a 2-1 road loss to St. George on Tuesday leaves them nipping at Niagara’s heels.
Niagara continues to have games in hand but the Ravens are just two points behind in fifth and the sixth-place Stars are a point below them. So, lots can change over the next few games.
Though the weekend would not fully go the Preds’ way, there was optimism in the air Friday night.
“This is one of the games – I feel they’ve been playing well – and I think we took it to them pretty good,” head coach Kevin Taylor said after the 7-0 win.
Things started close with Niagara’s Nick Savoie netting the only goal of the first 20 minutes 11:45 in.
Alexander Andrews and Nolan Wyers widened the gap late in the second period for a 3-0 lead going into the third.
But it was in the last period that Niagara ran away with it, starting with power-play goals from Timur Mirzaiants after six minutes and Ethan Boyd a minute later.
Andrews notched his second of the night at the 13:02 mark and Cameron Savoie earned Niagara’s seventh and final tally with just under four minutes to go.
Zane Clausen turned aside 30 shots to earn the shutout.
In the past, Taylor has said his team needs to “learn how to win” by keeping the goals coming even after they have taken the lead.
“I thought we dominated the game. We played well but in the past we’ve allowed teams to hang on,” he said.
“So it was nice to see they came out and took it to them in the third period. I appreciated the effort. Good teams find a way to finish teams off and that’s what we did there.”
While the early part of Niagara’s season was touch-and-go, the Predators have started gathering wins, coming out on top in five of their eight most recent games before Friday.
That performance jumped them into fourth place in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s south division.
With mostly lower-ranked teams ahead in Niagara’s remaining regular season games, things look promising.
However, the much stronger St. George Ravens had posed a greater risk to the Predators, so the win came as a relief to Taylor.
“They are a good team. Sometimes they come out flat but they stayed with us for a couple periods. They had some opportunities and our goaltender played phenomenally.”
While he thought his team sent a message Friday, he felt a real statement could be made with a win Tuesday night on the Ravens’ home ice.
“Will we roll over and allow things to happen or are we going to continue this?”
But St. George edged them out in a close game Tuesday.
The Ravens started off the scoring but Niagara kept with them thanks to a goal in the last minute of the first period by Cole Ellis. But it would end up being the only one of the night for the Predators who could not respond to a second-period tally by St. George.
Regardless of how the weekend played out, Taylor said their latest lineup is what can be expected going into the playoffs.
“This is one of our first games since the trade deadline where we’ve had everyone here and it’s been a test,” he said Friday. “This is basically the lineup we’re going to go with.”
The Predators have a busy week ahead, with four games in four days starting this Friday, Feb. 10, versus the eighth-place Streetsville Flyers at the Meridian Credit Union Arena. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.