It took every save of a brilliant 47-stop performance by Gianluca Baggetta, but the North York Rangers hung on to win 3-1 and eliminate the Buffalo Jr. Sabres in Game 5 Thursday.
The key moment came with just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation. Ranger captain Jeremy Szabo caught Buffalo forward Tim Nicksic with a huge, open-ice hit that forced the Jr. Sabre to the locker room after the recoil forced his face to crash into the ice. The referees deemed the hit dirty, and the Rangers were forced to kill a five-minute major while up 2-0.
Yet North York only allowed one goal on the lengthy kill, which included a full two-minute 5-on-3 on a roughing call to defenceman Jake Demaeyer, and en empty netter by Kyle Clarke sealed the contest with under a minute remaining in regulation.
Ted Hunt opened the scoring on a North York power play 2:06 into the second period when he scooped in a rebound from a Fedor Rudakov point shot.
Josh Dame gave the Rangers some insurance at the 2:36-mark of the final frame, scoring in similar fashion after Kegan Blasby was denied by Buffalo goaltender Tucker Weppner.
Ryan Cox chipped in a centring feed from close range near the end of the five-minute power play to put Buffalo on the board with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation.
The series will go down as a hard-fought battle between two physical teams.
North York forward Michael Morgan led the series in scoring with six goals and eight points over the five games, while Buffalo’s Zach Evancho led the American squad with five points.
The Rangers will now wait to see their second-round opponent, which at time of writing could be the Georgetown Raiders, Burlington Cougars, or Toronto Jr. Canadiens.