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Cyclones clinch Eastern Conference Championship with OT thriller
CINCINNATI (WKRC) -- Jonathan Hazen etched his name in Cyclones history with a shorthanded goal in overtime as Cincinnati (12-6) defeated the Greenville Road Warriors (10-8) by a 3-2 final score in front of 2,318 at U.S. Bank Arena on Tuesday night. With the Game 6 victory, the Cyclones earn the Eastern Conference title and advance to the Kelly Cup finals for the third time in club history. In addition to his shorthanded tally, Hazen also notched a power play goal in the tilt, giving him points in six of his last nine games. Goaltender Rob Madore (W, 28 saves, 12-6) closed the series as he started it, with an impressive performance between the pipes, stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced in the tilt.
The Cyclones set a blistering pace to start the game, peppering net minder Jeff Malcolm (L, 34 saves, 3-4) with multiple shots in the opening minutes. However, it was the Road Warriors that struck first when Ryan Hegarty recorded his first goal of the postseason at 7:19. With his assist on the tally, Greenville's Kyle Jean extended his ECHL-best point streak to nine consecutive games. Both clubs exchanged power play opportunities and Madore made a couple close saves, but the score held and the Cyclones, who were outshot 13-9 in the frame, entered the first intermission trailing by one.
Cincinnati successfully killed a tripping penalty to begin the middle stanza. When Josh Shalla was called for slashing minutes later, the home team not only killed the penalty, but also evened the score at one with a shorthanded goal. A fortuitous bounce off the boards allowed Dan Eves to steal the puck at center ice, streak toward the net, and snipe his third of the playoffs past Malcolm at 8:23. The Cyclones were again whistled for slashing before the end of the period, but the score remained knotted at one, despite Cincinnati being outshot 23-14 through 40 minutes.
The home team carried momentum into the final frame and spent most of the opening minutes in the offensive zone. After Bretton Stamler was called for delay of game, the Cyclones took their first lead of the night when they capitalized on the man-advantage. Josh McFadden took a hard shot that resulted in a big rebound in front of the net. Hazen promptly buried it for his fifth of the postseason at 11:21. Cincinnati continued to dictate play, outshooting Greenville 18-4 in the stanza. But with 56 seconds remaining in regulation, an unfortunate bounce allowed Andrew Yogan, Greenville's leading point scorer, to convert his seventh of the playoffs. With the score tied at two, both clubs headed to overtime for the third time in the series.
Despite their tired legs, the Cyclones continued to pressure Greenville in the bonus session. When Shalla was called for delay of game, the Cyclones' well-tested penalty kill unit went back to work. This time, Hazen blasted his second goal of the night and third overtime winner of the postseason past Malcolm, a top-shelf shot at 13:17 that sealed the game and the series for Cincinnati.
"I had a tough [time] in the first and second period," Hazen said. "But [that changed] in the third period and in overtime. It's good that coach trusts me."
Looking ahead, the Cyclones plan to keep it simple and play the same way they have all season.
"Just play our game," Taylor Aronson said about the team's game plan heading into the finals. "Make other teams play against us, not the other way around."
"We have a very good team here," Hazen added with a smile. "We need four more. Let's keep going."