NORTH BAY, Ont. — Kyle Potts and Steve Harland scored goals 1:36 apart in the second period as the North Bay Battalion, fighting for a playoff berth, ended a five-game Ontario Hockey League losing skid with a 4-1 victory Thursday night over the Niagara IceDogs.
Brett McKenzie scored two third-period goals, the second an empty-netter in every way except officially, and goaltender Brent Moran made 33 saves before a crowd of 2,715 as the Battalion moved its won-lost-extended record to 20-30-4 for 44 points, fourth in the Central Division.
North Bay, which won for the first time since a 7-4 decision Feb. 2 over the visiting Sarnia Sting, is one point behind the Ottawa 67’s, who hold the eighth and last Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Oliver Castleman scored and goaltender Stephen Dhillon made 36 saves for Niagara, 18-27-10 for 46 points, third in the division. The IceDogs hadn’t played since a 4-0 blanking of the Troops at St. Catharines last Saturday night.
“I was pretty happy with the second and third periods,” said Battalion coach Stan Butler. “I thought we started slow, and then in the last half of the first period we were a lot better. We’ve had so many near-wins that I don’t think the confidence is always there for the boys, but tonight once we made it 2-1 we settled in and played a pretty good game.”
Butler praised Moran, who was pulled in three of his previous four starts.
“That was one of his better efforts. He was pretty steady. He gave us the type of goaltending we’re going to need to have to be successful.”
Niagara led 1-0 to start the second period, but Potts tied it on the power play at 11:44, jamming the puck under Dhillon’s right pad off a Mark Shoemaker pass from the right wing. Zach Shankar also assisted on Potts’s ninth goal of the season.
Harland was credited with what proved to be the winner when Adam Thilander’s shot from inside the blue line deflected off the stopping Harland’s left knee into the net at 13:20. Daniel Walker drew the other assist on Harland’s 23rd goal.
Niagara outshot North Bay 12-11 in the period, but the Battalion had the better chances. Dhillon poked the puck away from penalty killers McKenzie and Max Kislinger after they got behind the defence early, and Justin Brazeau and Adam McMaster each missed close-in chances. A Harland wraparound attempt in the 10th minute eluded McKenzie, who was crosschecked into the net and subsequently had a Brady Lyle shot hit him while sprawled across the goal line.
The visitors’ best chance came in the last minute on a two-on-one rush, but Moran denied Justin Brack’s shot and Ryan Mantha’s rebound attempt.
McKenzie struck at 11:06 of the third period, finishing off a two-on-one rush with Harland, who had the lone assist, by beating Dhillon high to the stick side. McKenzie then caught Dhillon at the bench in a failed effort to get off the ice for a sixth attacker, finishing the scoring into the abandoned cage with a team-leading 26th goal at 18:22.
Niagara’s only good scoring chance came in the 15th minute when Kirill Maksimov’s shot from the left-wing circle got behind Moran, with the puck rolling through the crease and wide of the net.
Castleman connected at 15:24 of the first period, seconds after Dhillon turned away Shankar and McKenzie. Brack sent a long pass to Castleman, who outraced defender Jesse Saban and slipped a backhander behind Moran inside the right post.
The Troops held a 17-10 edge in shots in the period. McKenzie was credited with six shots, with his best chance coming in the final seconds when Dhillon stretched to get his right pad on a drive from the slot. Penalty killer Brazeau tested Dhillon off the left wing in the 10th minute.
The Battalion visits the Sudbury Wolves at 7 p.m. Friday in the first of five consecutive road games. The game can be heard live on Country 600 CKAT.
BATTALION BULLETS: It was the fifth of the teams’ six meetings. The Battalion, 3-2-0 against the IceDogs, is at Niagara on March 12 … McKenzie has 76 career goals, one more than Nick Paul and 10th on the franchise list. In four games this season against Niagara, McKenzie has four goals and four assists for eight points … Harland has two goals and six assists for eight points in five games against the IceDogs … The Battalion went 1-for-5 on the power play. Niagara was 0-for-6 … Saban fought Ryan Smith in the second period, receiving an instigating minor and misconduct. Each got a major … Opening lines included McKenzie centring left winger Kislinger and right winger Harland, Potts centring left winger Brad Chenier and right winger Brazeau and McMaster pivoting left winger Walker and Daniil Vertiy on right wing. Rhys Forhan centred Alex Robert on left wing and right winger Andy Baker … The Battalion scratched Cam Dineen, Riley Bruce, Brett Hargrave, Zach Poirier, Jacob Ball and Mat Woroniuk … Robert, up from the junior A Gloucester Rangers for a second game, made his Memorial Gardens debut … Poirier completed a two-game suspension for a boarding major and game misconduct Saturday night … Eric Allair, who’s had a back problem, returned to the Troops’ blue line for the first time since a 3-1 home-ice loss Dec. 31 to the Mississauga Steelheads … The referees were Ryan Park and Andrew Thompson.