By Ryan McCracken on February 8, 2018.
The Medicine Hat Tigers left nothing to chance on Wednesday night at the Canalta Centre.
After dropping six one-goal games over the past 11 contests and limping through a B.C. Division road trip with four consecutive setbacks, the Tigers returned home and rallied to a resounding 6-0 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings thanks to a commanding four-goal first period.
“Winning is a lot more fun than losing, for sure. We really needed tonight,” said Tigers defenceman David Quenneville, who had a goal and an assist in the win. “Guys are on edge a little bit and maybe gripping the stick a little tight when it’s one-goal (games). A bounce either way can spark a game or kill the game. When you’re up four goals like that, you can just play.”
Tyler Preziuso started the early onslaught less than three minutes into his return from a head injury. The 19-year-old Victoria product jumped on a rebound in the slot and fired the puck past Oil Kings goaltender Josh Dechaine for his 12th of the season after taking a puck to the head on Jan. 26 and missing the next five games.
The Tigers kept the pedal down and Quenneville doubled up on the lead while re-establishing an edge in the WHL’s defensive scoring race midway through the frame. The 19-year-old Edmonton product stepped into a drop pass from Mark Rassell and blasted the ensuing slapshot through Dechaine for his league-leading 60th point and 22nd goal of the year.
But they weren’t done there. Rassell continued the pressure by holding the offensive zone to keep an attack alive then Quenneville cut down low and fed Ryan Chyzowski for a tap-in to leave the Oil Kings reeling.
While Edmonton had a chance to stop the bleeding when Tigers defenceman Dalton Gally was nabbed for hooking in the final two minutes of the first, Rassell struck shorthanded for his 43rd goal of the season to give Medicine Hat plenty of breathing room after 20 minutes.
“The guys came out flying,” said Tigers head coach Shaun Clouston. “We wanted to play with an aggressive mindset and get on the forecheck and I think we did that.”
Despite the lopsided score, Tigers goaltender Michael Bullion had to be sharp in the early going. The overage Alaskan —recently given exclusive No. 1 status with Jordan Hollett on the shelf for 4-to-6 weeks due to a lower body injury — turned aside 10 shots in the opening frame, including a key breakaway save on streaking Oil Kings forward Trey Fix-Wolansky.
“I think for sure that probably helps a little, but even bigger than that was the structure we had during the game and during that first period especially,” said Bullion. “We did ourselves a favour there and that made every save I had to make way easier.”
Edmonton brought a stronger effort to the second period and managed to hold the Tigers without a shot for the first eight minutes of the frame, but Bullion kept them at bay with 13 more saves to keep Medicine Hat’s commanding lead intact.
“We definitely upped our energy level, but we spotted a good team four easy goals in the first so it’s very tough to come back from that,” said Oil Kings captain Colton Kehler.
While the Oil Kings continued to pressure Bullion in the third, the Hat netminder refused to let a puck slip past him and Gary Haden put the game out of reach by tapping home a rebound for his 14th of the year, then Josh Williams added another to ice the game with 3.3 seconds left in regulation to send the 2,771 in attendance home happy.
Bullion turned aside a total of 31 saves to lock up his second shutut of the season — and the fifth of his career — while lifting the Tigers to 27-22-7-0 on the year.
“I’m really glad we worked hard and were consistent for (Michael) Bullion to get that shutout for him,” said Quenneville. “Any time you have a depleted roster and can find ways to win, I think that’s really good. It’s a good sign for your depth.”
Dechaine stopped 33 in the loss, dropping Edmonton to 14-31-5-2.
The Tigers return to the Canalta Centre Friday to kick off a home-and-home set with the Calgary Hitmen at 7:30 p.m.
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