By John Langdon
The Belleville Bulls kept their playoff hopes alive after completing an unlikely comeback Friday night by defeating the Sudbury Wolves 4-3 in a shootout.
The Bulls erased a two-goal deficit in the third period on two power play goals from Mike Mascioli and Andy Bathgate, while goaltender Malcolm Subban was stellar as he registered 33 saves in the win.
Subban, who made a number of big saves to keep his team in the game, didn’t allow anything past him in the shootout. Wolves forward Mathew Campagna failed to register a shot as he lost control of the puck while forwards Michael Sgarbossa and Eric O’Dell were turned away by two great saves from the Belleville netminder.
“Those guys are really talented. I knew Campagna when I saw him in the U-17 when he did that move. I didn’t want him to do it to me,” Subban jokingly said while referring to Campagna’s beautifully executed penalty shot attempt for Team Ontario at the 2011 IIHF Under-17 tournament. “I was thankful that he lost the puck there.”
After Campagna’s unsuccessful shootout effort, Subban was faced with two more challenging attempts but had answers for both as the Bulls goaltender extended his left pad across his crease to steal one from Sgarbossa and then shut down the five-hole on O’Dell to secure a much-needed two points for his team.
“Sgarbossa could have gotten it up on me there and thankfully it kind of got into my pad and O’Dell, same thing, I made a nice save there,” Subban said. “They’re really good shooters and I’m happy I stopped them.”
The win pushed Belleville four points ahead of the Peterborough Petes in the fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“The win was huge,” Bulls Head coach George Burnett said. “It was armed robbery here tonight. I don’t know that we were worthy of the two points but give our guys some credit, we did work hard.”
Burnett praised his goaltender’s performance which helped his team earn a hard-fought two points on the road.
“Subban had to be real strong on a number of occasions,” Burnett said. “For your goaltender to go in there and make some big saves while you’re not anywhere close to being where you need to be to compete is a huge bonus for your club. They had some great chances and we were very fortunate to be in a position to have a chance to win.”
In what was a penalty filled contest, the Wolves found themselves sitting in the sin-bin numerous times which led to fourteen power play chances for Belleville, including several 5-on-3 opportunities.
Wolves Head coach Trent Cull didn’t hesitate to express his disagreement with some of the calls.
“I’m not saying we’re saints,” Cull said. “Some of those are certainly penalties, but to reward teams continual 5-on-3’s…I don’t know what’s going on there. I’m at a loss.”
After Josh McFadden opened to the scoring at 10:47 of the first period, the OHL’s number one ranked power play unit added to their statistics when Campagna finished a tic-tac-toe play from Josh Leivo and Kristoff Kontos to put the Wolves up 2-0.
Braeden Corbeth brought the Bulls to within one goal, after the Bulls forward banged home a loose puck past backup goaltender Jacob Riley who replaced Alain Valiquette early into the middle frame. The Wolves starting netminder left the game with what Cull described as an upper body injury.
Sudbury quickly added to their lead when Kontos finally buried a shot in the slot after the Wolves applied relentless pressure in the Belleville zone for several shifts.
Carrying a 3-1 lead into the third period, the Wolves were just twenty minutes away from victory but soon found themselves in penalty trouble when the home team was called for four minor penalties in the final frame, causing the 4,783 fans at Sudbury Community Arena to voice their displeasure.
After Sgarbossa was sentenced for slashing at 6:53, Mascioli buried a shot in the slot to pull the Bulls within one. Then at 13:42, Sgarbossa was handed four minutes in penalties after being called for cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct when the Wolves leading-scorer fired the puck out of anger after the whistle.
The Belleville power play capitalized for the second time in the game when Bathgate buried his 24th goal of the season to even the score at 3-3.
After five minutes of end-to-end action in overtime, Luke Judson scored the lone goal in the shootout, which proved to be enough for the Bulls to steal two points and keep their playoff hopes alive.
“It shows that we’re determined and we really want to fight to make the playoffs,” Subban said about the Bulls’ late game comeback. “A lot of guys think that even if we get in, we’re not going to beat Mississauga, but we played really well against them this year. So, we really want to get in and give them a run,” the Belleville netminder added.
The Bulls now own a 3-0 season series lead over the Wolves.
Sudbury returns to action next weekend for an Eastern Ontario road trip where they wrap up the regular season with three games in as many days. The Wolves will seek revenge on the Bulls when the two clubs clash next Saturday in Belleville.