Troops come up short of playoffs

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion got the help it needed elsewhere but failed to help itself Sunday as Ryan Cranford’s goal at 5:44 of the third period proved the winner in a 5-4 Kingston Frontenacs victory that eliminated the Troops from Ontario Hockey League playoff contention.

A win, given the Niagara IceDogs’ 6-1 loss to the host Mississauga Steelheads, would have forced a tiebreaker game against Niagara on Tuesday night at North Bay for the eighth and last quarterfinal berth in the Eastern Conference.

The Battalion, which led 3-1 in the second period, finished the season with a won-lost-extended record of 24-38-6 for 54 points, fourth in the Central Division and ninth in the conference, two points behind Niagara, which was 23-35-10, third in the division.

The Battalion missed the playoffs for the third time in the franchise’s 19-year history, after the 1998-99 expansion season and 2001-02, both in Brampton before relocation to North Bay in 2013.

Sergey Popov and Jason Robertson each had one goal and one assist and Brett Neumann and Jakob Brahaney also scored for Kingston, 33-26-9 for 75 points, third in the East Division and fourth in the conference. Goaltender Jeremy Helvig faced 30 shots as the Frontenacs clinched home ice for a first-round playoff series against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Justin Brazeau scored one goal and added two assists for the Battalion, which also got goals from Kyle Potts, Zach Poirier and Zach Shankar. Overage goaltender Brent Moran made 22 saves in his final OHL game, the regular-season finale for both teams.

“It’s been the story of our whole year — we have critical lapses at (bad) times and it hurts us,” Battalion coach Stan Butler said of a three-goal Kingston outburst early in the third period that put the visitors ahead 5-3.

“We did score to make it 5-4 and we pushed hard, but the reality is our pushes all year just haven’t been where they needed to be. We just didn’t get the job done. Kingston is a good team. Any time you can score four goals on Helvig, you should have a good chance to win. It was a competitive game, and they needed to win as much as we did, since they wanted home ice in the playoffs.”

Neumann tied it 3-3 at 1:33 of the final period, burying a Nathan Dunkley feed from deep in the left-wing circle, and Robertson struck 20 seconds later for his team-leading 42nd goal of the season, beating a screened Moran from the high slot. Cranford connected when his shot from the left boards eluded Moran.

With its season on the line, the Battalion pressed to cut the deficit, but Helvig smothered a loose puck as Troops lurked in the ninth minute and Brad Chenier fired wide of an open net on a two-on-one rush with Poirier in the 11th. Brett McKenzie and Daniil Vertiy had power-play chances after Justin Pringle went off for holding at 12:47.

Shankar pulled North Bay within a goal at 16:08, wending his way to the net and flicking the puck over Helvig. Brazeau earned the lone assist on defenceman Shankar’s fourth goal.

Moran went to the bench for a sixth skater with 57 seconds to play, but Helvig denied the Troops’ best chance, off McKenzie’s stick from the slot.

After a scoreless opening period, the teams combined for five second-period goals, with Potts striking first at 1:48 when he took a pass from Adam McMaster on a two-on-one rush and slipped the puck between Helvig’s pads. Brazeau also assisted on Potts’s 12th goal.

Popov replied at 4:16 when he extended himself to chip a Robertson pass high over Moran’s glove from the goalmouth, but the Battalion responded with two goals 41 seconds apart.

Brazeau scored his 22nd goal on the power play at 8:28, putting away the rebound of Brady Lyle’s right-point drive, with McKenzie also assisting, and Poirier then ripped home a wrister from the edge of the right circle for his 15th goal.

Defenceman Brahaney beat Moran low to the glove side from just inside the blue line at 12:22 to get Kingston within 3-2 through 40 minutes.

North Bay forged a 10-6 edge in shots in the physical first period and had the best chances, but Helvig denied Steve Harland at the right post on the power play in the fourth minute and got the blocker on a rising shot by Brazeau in the 10th. Helvig repelled another Harland shot from the left circle in the 11th minute and blocked a McKenzie drive off the left wing in the 18th.

BATTALION BULLETS: Attendance at Memorial Gardens on Fan Appreciation Day was 2,768 … The Battalion, 0-4-0 against Kingston, all one-goal decisions, finished 6-13-1 against East Division teams and 18-24-4 within the conference. The Troops went 12-18-4 at home and 2-5-2 in March … McKenzie played his 264th game, eclipsing Mike Amadio for sole possession of sixth place on the franchise list. McKenzie has 79 goals and 96 assists for 175 points, tied with Howie Martin for 10th place on the Battalion’s all-time scoring list … Shankar rocked Ted Nichol with a clean open-ice check in the first minute of the game, provoking several retaliatory attacks. Cody Caron went after Shankar and drew a double minor for roughing to a single for Shankar, who did nothing but cover up, at 2:59 … North Bay went 1-for-3 on the power play. Kingston was 0-for-1 … The Battalion scratched Eric Allair, Cam Dineen, Riley Bruce, Jacob Ball and Mat Woroniuk … Alex Robert of the junior A Gloucester Rangers played his sixth game with the Troops, while fellow winger Daniel Walker took shifts on defence … The Troops honoured their billets in a pregame ceremony. In addition, artist Jack Lockhart was commissioned to provide paintings of Moran and fellow overagers Harland and Brett Hargrave … After the game, the Battalion played the North Bay North Stars in their fourth annual meeting. Admission was a donation to the special needs team.

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