Kitchener Rangers’ Nick McHugh put it best: “Oh my god, there’s nothing better than playoff hockey.”
Mario Culina not only gave his team a chance to win, but was the Rangers’ best player in Game 5 against the Sarnia Sting.
Culina stopped 47 shots – a season high with Kitchener – and now boasts a playoff save percentage of .917, which is the highest amongst the four Western Conference goalies still in the playoffs.
“There were a lot of pucks coming in wobbly or tipped; scrambles in front,” said Kitchener head coach Jay McKee. “He was sharp. He was seeing everything. He was exceptional tonight. He was definitely our player of the game.”
The Rangers clipped the Sting 3-2 in overtime Friday night at the Aud, with Culina earning first star honours.
Kitchener took a 1-0 lead into the third period, but coughed up two goals to the Sting.
Sean Josling continued his incredible post-season, tying the game just over 90 seconds into the final frame for the visitors. Hugo Leufvenius gave the Sting the lead nine minutes later.
But, Nick McHugh took a pass from, his childhood teammate turned OHL line-mate, Greg Meireles and squeaked one by Justin Fazio in the slot, to tie the game.
“In my pre-game nap today I had a dream I was scoring,” said McHugh after celebrating far more than he normally does when scoring. “That was my ‘celly’. I guess I shot the bow in the crowd. It was a nicer goal than that [in the dream], but I’ll take the ‘celly’.”
McHugh’s 1st of the playoffs comes in the … nick … of time (5:08 to play) and the #OHLRangers and Sting are headed to overtime, tied 2-2. Josling and Leufvenius in the 3rd for Sarnia. Shots 45-29 SAR. #OHL
— Mike Farwell (@farwell_ohl) April 14, 2018
— Chris Pope (@_ChrisPope) April 14, 2018
“I know we weren’t as sharp as we may have wanted to be. I think Sarnia probably had the edge the majority of the game,” said McKee. “But that’s what playoff hockey is. It’s having an opportunity. McHugh came up with a huge goal. That line has been great for us.”
“We talked in our locker room; go out there and have fun and take this opportunity. Don’t be afraid of it, instead go for it,” said Rangers forward Rickard Hugg.
That’s exactly what he did. When captain Connor Bunnaman fired the puck from the corner to Hugg in the high-slot the Hudiksvall, Sweden native made good for his first of the post-season.
“It was just Game 5, so it doesn’t mean too much,” said Hugg. “But still feels really good.”
Hugg, like his head coach, knows the job isn’t done. The series shifts to Sarnia Sunday for Game 6.
“In the playoffs, every next game is the biggest game,” said McKee. “We know we have our hands full. We put ourselves in a good position. It’s just going to take a lot more hard work for us to finish it.”
In four games in Sarnia this season, the Rangers have won two.
They finished the regular season with as many points on the road as they earned at home, and have won the last two games in the series.
They hope to, like they did with Guelph, end the series on the road in Game 6.
Pre-game Sunday is at 4:30 p.m. on 570 News.