ABBOTSFORD 5, ROCHESTER 1,
Welcome to the Jon Rheault (pronounced 'Row') Show everybody.
The well-travelled right winger potted the first ever playoff hat trick in Abbotsford Heat history as the Heat forced a seventh and decisive game in the best-of-seven North Division semi final against the Rochester Americans with a thunderous 5-1 win in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon.
This on the heels of spotting the Amerks a 3-1 series lead.
Rheault, who spent time with two other AHL teams as well as the ECHL this season before he found a permanent home in Abbotsford, now has four of the Heat's last eight goals in the series.
He now leads the team in goals in these playoffs with five.
"I get to play with some good players in [Brett] Sutter and [Tyler] Spurgeon and our line is clicking," said Rheault after the win.
"We have some good chemistry going, which we felt last game. I got a couple of breakaways, used my speed and buried the first two, which helps make the game easier to play."
His first goal, a power move down his off wing on Amerks defenceman blue liner Keaton Ellerby, gave the Heat a 2-0 lead before the midway point of the first period just 41 seconds after Jason Jaffray opened the scoring with his first of the post-season.
In eerily similar fashion to his goal in Game 5, Rheault provided the Heat with a three-goal cushion by taking a beautiful breakaway pass from Mikael Backlund
then deking Tyler Plante out of his pads, guiding the puck thru the wickets of the Amerks goalie.
The crafty forward said it was his 'go to move.'
"Most goalies think I'll pull it to my backhand and then I pull it back and get them five-hole. [Backlund] made a great pass that allowed me to go in there," he said.
It was the third Heat goal in just over two minutes and was enough to chase Plante from the net after he allowed three goals on seven shots.
He was replaced by Alexander Salak, who gave way to Plante after the first period of Game 1.
Amerks forward Jamie Johnson gave Rochester hope with a power play goal at 8:25 of the second period, but that was close as they would come thanks to the goaltending of David Shantz.
Shantz, criticized by head coach Jim Playfair and by the media for allowing 15 goals on just 66 shots thru Game 2 to Game 5, made a monumental save, amongst a handful of other key stops, just a few minutes later to preserve the two-goal lead.
Johnson was denied by the right pad of Shantz after letting go a one-time shot on a two-on-pass from Mike York.
"There was a period when Rochester pushed really hard there in the second and again Shantz made some good saves for us and kept us in the lead," said Heat assistant coach Jared Bednar.
That save would prove critical later in the middle frame.
David Van der Gulik restored the three-goal lead just a few minutes later with his second of the playoffs, and in as many games after being mostly unheard from in the first four games of the series.
Subsequently, the pride of Abbotsford found himself in Playfair's doghouse.
But since his reunion with Jaffray and Backlund, the team's most exciting player this season has suddenly come alive.
He was the beneficiary of a nifty faceoff win from Jason Jaffray, who pushed the puck ahead and to his left where Van der Gulik jumped on it and beat Salak top corner with a snapshot on the power play.
But it was Rheault who provided the final nail in the coffin thanks to wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Salak over the blocker.
"He's been a good player for us," said Bednar of Rheault.
"He's a quick little guy, strong on pucks and he pursues the puck well on the fore check and on the back check. He's made a couple of nice individual plays, some nice skilled plays and he ends up scoring on three of his chances here tonight."
After Rheault nailed it down, the Heat shut it down. They outshot the Amerks 15-6 in the final frame despite having to kill of two straight penalties to begin the third.
"We were able to stay with it and continue our play thru the course of the game," said Bednar.
Game 7, which will provide a series winner one way or the other, goes in Rochester on Tuesday evening, beginning at 4:05 p.m. PDT. The action can be heard on Country 107.1 FM with Dave Sheldon.(Files from Cam Tucker-Abbotsford Times)