Hamilton Bulldogs take 3-0 lead in OHL Eastern Conference final


Published May 25, 2022 at 9:39 pm

Hamilton Bulldogs centre Logan Morrison. (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

The invincibility shield the Hamilton Bulldogs seemingly have got dented — but they still took a 3-0 series stranglehold over the North Bay Battalion.

For the first time in these Ontario Hockey League playoffs, the Bulldogs gave up more than three goals and had a multi-goal lead evaporate. But with linemates Avery Hayes and Logan Morrison scoring twice apiece, the Bulldogs outlasted the desperate North Bay Battalion side to earn a 6-4 victory on Wednesday and move within one win of taking the best-of-seven series.

Hamilton, now 11-0 in the playoffs, has the first chance to wrap up the series in Game 4 in North Bay on Friday.

The longest win streak in a single OHL postseason is 14. In 2019, the Ottawa 67’s swept through the three-rounds Eastern Conference bracket and won the first two games against the Guelph Storm in the OHL final. Guelph, bolstered by MacKenzie Entwistle of 2018 OHL champion Bulldogs renown, rallied to defeat Ottawa four times in a row to take the title.

The 2016 London Knights team which was co-captained by current Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner won 13 in a row to take the league title. London closed out its first-round series in six games, then swept three teams in a row to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup. Those Knights went on to win the Memorial Cup.

While Hamilton remained unscathed, the outcome on Wednesday was up for grabs until Morrison scored an empty-net goal with 32 seconds left for his playoff-most 13th goal. Fellow centre Mason McTavish used some elbow grease to get the puck out of danger in the Bulldogs’ zone and create a 2-on-1 rush on the vacated net.

The first goal of the night from Morrison put Hamilton ahead for good at 11:25 of the second period. Hayes was stoned on a breakaway by Battalion goalie Dom DiVincentiis, but Morrison deftly flicked in the rebound for a 4-3 lead.

Ryan Winterton scored the eventual game-winning goal 2:34 into the third. But Ajax native Brandon Coe got a power-play goal for North Bay with 5:36 remaining, forcing Hamilton to sweat out the final minutes.

Hayes, the reigning OHL player of the week, had at least three points for the third consecutive game. The 19-year-old wing has scored or assisted on 10 of the Bulldogs’ 16 goals in the series.

Hamilton native Mark Duarte, a grinding wing, got his first OHL playoff goal 34 seconds into the second period. That gave Hamilton a 3-1 cushion.

The Battalion battled back from two goals down to draw even, something none of Hamilton’s opponents had done in the previous 10 playoff games. Hamilton and goalie Marco Costantini had only allowed three goals once prior to Wednesday.

Costantini saved 27-of-31 shots. Even after having four goals go in his net, he has a 1.91 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in the playoffs.

The North Bay-Hamilton winner will face the winner of the Flint Firebirds-Windsor Spitfires Western Conference final. Flint leads that series 2-1.

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