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Battalion captures opener

NORTH BAY, Ont. — Mitchell Russell scored three goals, the last two into an empty net, and added an assist to lead the North Bay Battalion to a 6-4 victory Friday night over the Kingston Frontenacs in the opener of their Ontario Hockey League second-round playoff series.

Brandon Coe and Owen Van Steensel each had one goal and one assist and Kyle McDonald also scored for North Bay, which grabbed the advantage in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.

Goaltender Joe Vrbetic contributed 25 saves before a crowd of 3,025 at Memorial Gardens.

Francesco Arcuri and Paul Ludwinski provided one goal and one assist apiece for Kingston, while Lucas Edmonds and Martin Chromiak also scored. Goaltender Leevi Merilainen stopped 34 of 38 shots.

In conference quarterfinals, the second-place Battalion defeated the Ottawa 67’s in four straight games, while third-place Kingston eliminated the Oshawa Generals four games to two.

“There were a few mistakes,” said Battalion coach Ryan Oulahen. “I think there were some learning moments there, especially in the third period. But overall, I’ve said all season long, you don’t need to over-analyse a win. This is a good win for us. We got the job done, and a good start to the series.”

North Bay, which carried a 3-1 lead into the third period, extended it on Van Steensel’s shorthanded breakaway at 2:15. He took a pass from Liam Arnsby at the Battalion blue line and outraced Braden Hache to the net, beating Merilainen on a forehand deke.

Kingston pulled within 4-3 on goals 1:37 apart by Ludwinski and Edmonds. Ludwinski went to the left side to convert the rebound of a Shane Wright shot from deep on the right wing at 4:37, and Edmonds scored from a sharp angle to Vrbetic’s right off a pass from Alec Belanger.

Coe hit the post on a breakaway at 14:50 before Belanger did the same in the 17th minute and Kingston pulled Merilainen for a sixth skater at 17:49. Russell won the puck on the right boards in the neutral zone and skated it to the net to make it 5-3 at 18:15 before Chromiak shoveled home a Zayde Wisdom rebound for a one-goal deficit at 18:50.

Russell then fired the puck from his own blue line into the empty net at 19:46, securing his seventh goal of the playoffs and the win.

Coe opened the scoring at 5:53 of the first period, driving toward the net on the right wing to cash a Russell rebound off a two-on-two rush. Kyle Jackson had the other assist on Coe’s fourth goal.

McDonald scored a goal at 14:28 that was deemed legitimate after two reviews. Van Steensel charged to the net off the left wing for an initial shot before McDonald stuffed the puck under Merilainen, who had defender Ben Roger draped over him. Referee Jason Faist, who worked with Mac Nichol, waved the play off before and after a video review, but a second look saw him point to centre ice. Paul Christopoulos also assisted on McDonald’s third goal.

Russell struck on the power play 22 seconds into the middle period, directing the puck home at the right post on a pass from Matvey Petrov even as Merilainen knocked the cage loose. Video review confirmed the goal.

Jackson turned over the puck to Arcuri for an unassisted goal, his third of the postseason, at 15:45.

Game 2 is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday on the same ice.

BATTALION BULLETS: The Battalion has an all-time won-lost record of 22-13 in the opening game of a playoff series, including 14-2 at home. The Troops are 6-0 in first games at North Bay … The Battalion wore, for the first time, its helmet stickers reading “JL” in memory of Jack Lyons, the 17-year-old fan and North Bay North Stars player who passed away April 24 … Russell’s first empty-netter proved to be the game-winner and gave him a total of four in the playoffs, tied for third place with Luch Aquino and Nick Paul in franchise history. Matt Duchesne scored six and Barclay Goodrow five … The last Battalion player to score as many as three goals in the postseason was Justin Brazeau, who had four in a 6-5 triple-overtime loss in Game 5 of a first-round series March 31, 2018, at Kingston … Van Steensel joined Christopoulos as the scorer of a shorthanded goal in the current playoffs. Christopoulos put one into an empty net in the opener against visiting Ottawa … The Battalion went 1-for-5 on the power play. Kingston was 0-for-2 … Russell led the Battalion with eight shots on goal, while Coe followed with six. Jordan Frasca topped Kingston shooters with five … The Battalion scratched Cam Gauvreau and Nic Sima… Michael Podolioukh returned to the North Bay lineup after sitting out the last game of the Ottawa series … Kingston was without Gage Heyes, Duncan Schneider, Nathan Poole, Quinton Burns and Maddox Callens.

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