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Host Kitchener opens Memorial Cup with 6-5 overtime win over Gatineau

NHL.com @NHL

KITCHENER, Ont. - Justin Azevedo snuffed out Gatineau's comeback bid with an overtime goal, which gave the host Kitchener Rangers a 6-5 win to open the 2008 MasterCard Memorial Cup on Friday.

Azevedo wired a wrist shot high over the outstretched glove of Olympiques goaltender Ryan Mior at 6:59 of the extra period for the power-play winner.

The Olympiques, who forced overtime after trailing most of the game, had been called for too many men on the ice 14 seconds earlier.

"We got a break," Azevedo said. "It's an unbelievable feeling especially in overtime.

"Game 1, you don't want to go into overtime, but we got the win and that was crucial. A win's a win in this tournament."

Azevedo, named the Ontario Hockey League's best player in both the regular season and playoffs, also had three assists. He and linemates Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling combined for four goals and five assists on the night.

Rookie Justin Akeson and Danish NHL prospect Mikkel Boedker also scored for the host club and OHL champs in front of a full house of 6,705 at Memorial Auditorium.

Kitchener outshot Gatineau 53-28 and thanks to his team's firepower in front of him, Rangers goaltender Josh Unice needed only 23 saves for the win.

Darryl Smith and Michael Stinziani each had a goal and two assists for the Olympiques, while Paul Byron, Nicholas Valliere-Mayer and Alex Quesnel also scored for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions.

The Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs meet the OHL runner-up Belleville Bulls on Saturday (4 p.m. ET).

The team with the best record at the conclusion of the round-robin gets a bye to the final May 25 and the second-and third-place teams meet in the semifinal May 23.

The Rangers had the upper hand for two periods and led 3-2 and 5-3 at breaks, but the Olympiques revived in the third to tie the score 9:05 into the period.

Kitchener took advantage of Gatineau's porous defence below their own faceoff circles to score three unanswered goals in the first 12 minutes of the game and shell Mior with 42 shots over the first two periods.

But the Rangers went cold in the third with just four shots on Mior.

"A two-goal lead is the worst lead to have in a game," Azevedo said. "I wouldn't say it messes with your concentration, but you do think about it."

Kitchener recovered its firepower in overtime and outshot the Olympiques 7-0, but it was Gatineau's gaffe on a line change that was their downfall.

"We chose to pass it back into our own zone instead of going forward," Gatineau head coach Benoit Groulx said.

Friday's game marked the first meeting between the two franchises and the two head coaches since Groulx's Olympiques lost to Peter DeBoer's Rangers in the final of the 2003 Memorial Cup in Quebec City.

After a terrible start, Gatineau kept Kitchener from running away with it early by scoring a pair of goals in the last six minutes of the first period. The Olympiques stayed within striking distance with a power-play goal late in the second.

"It was a good test for us coming into the host team's building and the crowd was wild," Smith said. "It shows how much character we have to come back from getting down so early.

"I don't know if it was nerves, but we just weren't ready to play."

Claude Giroux's backhand pass against the flow of play gave Quesnel time to get a shot away from one knee and tie it at 9:05 of the third period.

Valliere-Mayer's off-speed shot skimmed past Unice's outstretched pad for a power-play goal at 2:03.

Halischuk was the overtime hero for Canada at the world junior hockey championships in January as he scored the winner against Sweden in the gold-medal game.

Halischuk, a New Jersey Devils draft pick, enjoys an uncanny chemistry around the net with linemates Spaling, a Nashville Predators prospect, and Azevedo.

"I wouldn't say magic, but we're just really comfortable with each other," Azevedo said. "We know where each other is going to be on the ice and I don't think I could be happier with those two."

Azevedo set up Halischuk's second goal of the night with a feed from behind the net at 9:29 of the second period to pad Kitchener's cushion, before Gatineau countered with a power-play goal from Smith at 12:57.

Boedker, ranked No. 11 among North American skaters by Central Scouting, blasted Azevedo's backhand pass past Mior at 2:30 of the second period for a power-play goal and a 4-2 lead.

Byron, the QMJHL's leading goal-scorer in the playoffs, banged a rebound past Unice's right pad at 16:40 of the first period to temporarily pull Gatineau within a goal.

Stinziani converted Smith's feed from behind the net into Gatineau's first goal at 14:13.

The Rangers swarmed Gatineau's net to get Mior off balance and Halischuk scored his first of two over the prone Gatineau goalie at 11:57.

Gatineau's Joey Ryan and Kitchener's Brandon Mashinter dropped the gloves on the ensuing faceoff and fought.

Mior got a piece of Spaling's wrist shot from the high slot, but couldn't control it enough to keep it from skidding by him for Kitchener's second goal at 7:49.

Akeson scored his first goal of the post-season by winning a battle in the corner with Olympiques defenceman Mike Mallette.

Akeson came out of the corner with the puck and beat Mior with a wrist shot at 6:17.

Gatineau defenceman Hubert Labrie left the game in the third period after an apparent knee injury. Boedker had knee on knee contact later in the third period and skated to the bench in pain, but was able to keep playing.

Notes: Rangers defencemen Yannick Weber (ankle) and Robert Burtuzzo (shoulder) remained out of the Rangers lineup Friday and forward Scott Tregunna continued to fill in on the back end. ... Olympiques defenceman Mike Mallette had his first game action since January when he injured his shoulder and required surgery. ... The Rangers wore retro jerseys in Friday's game with the decal of a soldier on the front. The design was taken from an English recruiting poster during the First World War. The Memorial Cup trophy has been given our since 1919 in honour of men and women who died in that war.

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