Francesco Pinelli scored twice and added an assist and Pavel Cajan made 34 saves as the Kitchener Rangers edged the London Knights 3-2 to open the Western Conference quarterfinal series between the teams on Thursday night at Budweiser Gardens.
The win by the Rangers spoiled the return of Knights goaltender Brett Brochu who skated back into the London crease for the first time since March 8 when he suffered a lower body injury in a game played at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
Brochu made 23 stops in goal for London and made the kinds of plays that saw him named best puck-handling goalie in the Western Conference. He appeared to be in some discomfort part way through the opening period but waved away Knights athletic trainer Matt Bogart and remained in the game.
Mike Petizian of the Rangers took a shot that glanced off the big body of Mitch Martin and counted as the first goal of the 2022 OHL playoffs. It came at 7:57 of the first period.
Pinelli scored 18 seconds into a second period power play to send Kitchener into the final 20 minutes with a 2-0 advantage and then scored again just as a man advantage ended just 1:36 into the third period.
Tonio Stranges broke the ice for London one minute and 12 seconds later as he beat Cajan with a backhand to the top corner and then Stranges created another highlight-reel goal on a penalty shot just past the halfway mark of the final period.
The Knights pressed from there to tie the game but were rebuffed by the Rangers right down to the last five seconds when Camaryn Baber got a chance in tight that Cajan stopped.
Cody Morgan continued his hot offensive stretch with an assist. Morgan has 13 points in his last eight games.
Petizian had two assists for Kitchener.
Isaiah George did not play in the game. He was listed as being out with a non-COVID illness.
The teams get right back on the ice for Game 2 on Friday at 7 pm.
Saginaw at number one
The Saginaw Spirit will have the first overall pick in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection which begins on Friday, April 29 with rounds 1-3 and continues a day later with rounds 4-15.
The Spirit won the Ontario Hockey League’s second-ever draft lottery on April 20. It featured the four teams that did not make the OHL playoffs and was instituted because of the unbalanced schedules that teams played in 2021-22 as the league navigated through COVID-19 concerns.
Saginaw will have the first opportunity to select forward Michael Misa who was granted exceptional status to play in the OHL as a 15-year old. The Erie Otters will select second overall followed by the Sudbury Wolves and the Niagara IceDogs.
The London Knights own the 15th overall selection in the opening round.
The results of the annual OHL Coaches Poll were released before the start of the playoffs and four Knights players were recognized.
Luke Evangelista was named best shootout shooter in the Western Conference and finished second in voting in the eest for smartest player and most dangerous in the goal area and third for best playmaker.
Camaryn Baber was named best defensive forward in the Western conference and finished second in voting for hardest worker. Tonio Stranges finished second as best skater and third in voting for best stickhandler and Brett Brochu was named best stickhandling goalie and best shootout goalie.
Game 2 between London and Kitchener takes place on Friday, Apr. 22 at 7 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens.
The series will then shift to Kitchener, Ont., for Game 3 on Sunday, Apr. 24 at 2 p.m.
Coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., respectively, on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.