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Travis Konecny revealed a bit about why he is a ballyhooed prospect and captain of the Ottawa 67's as a sophomore on Saturday.
There are talents who can take over for a span, as Konecny did while getting three prettier-than-the-last primary assists in fewer than six minutes during the 67's second decisive win against the Niagara IceDogs in their OHL Eastern Conference quarter-final. It's rarer to have the same player also reining his team in, keeping them cognizant that a run like the 67's had — five goals on nine shots in a seven-minute, 45-second span after spotting the more marquee-player filled IceDogs the icebreaker — happens rarely.
"It's kind of in the moment — you just ride it and if it's going for you, it's going and you take advantage of the opportunities," said Konency, who finished with four assists to help the 67's go up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, which resumes in St. Catharines, Ont., on Monday. "The opportunities kept coming one shift after another for me.
"You need to know it's the playoffs and anything can happen, though," Konency added. "Those guys could turn it around at any time. I think, for me, it was important to relay that message to the guys on the bench that as much as we're going to keep the gas on the pedal, we needed to stay calm and do simple things, still."
The run started on the shift after Perlini opened the scoring by one-timing a cross-ice pass from Josh Ho-Sang, in what turned out to be the only instance of Niagara's frontline forwards getting on the board. On the next shift, Ottawa got an odd-man rush and Konency drop-passed to defenceman Alex Lintuniemi, who scored five-hole. Fewer than three minutes later, after 'Dogs defenceman Vince Dunn was caught upice by a pass from Brendan Bell to, Konecy, the 18-year-old right wing curled into the middle to evade the last man back, Aaron Haydon, then fed centre Nathan Todd who scored for a 2-1 lead.
"I knew I wasn't going to have a good shot or anything," Konency explained. "I was going to be able to beat him to the middle, so I delayed a bit and gave it over to Todd and he made an awesome shot, post-in with not a lot of the room."
Ottawa overage Curtis Meighan scored 23 seconds later. Konency soon teed up defenceman Nevin Guy, who had five points, for a power-play goal. By that point, Ottawa was well on the way to taking a vital two-game lead over Niagara, which hosts the next two games in a barn where they are 16-1-2-0 since Jan. 1.
The kicker was it all unfolded randomly. Ottawa scored six goals in the period after recording only two shots in the first period. Konency, though, pointed out that the 67's, who weren't the sexy pre-series pick in a matchup against an IceDogs side that won 21 of its last 29 games,
"We played a good period in the first and kept it 0-0," the Clachan, Ont., native said. "In the playoffs, as long as you can keep it tied at least, it's a good period.. The message [between periods] was things would go our way."
Ottawa scoring 16 goals over two games vs. Niagara has been a true team effort, while the IceDogs' emotions have been more raging ying than sobering yang (Ottawa's Trent Mallette having been a pot-stirrer nonpareil over both games).
The second period attested to how Konecny can be talismanic for a team. Draft watchers might have had trouble ranking him due to his modest 5-foot-10, 176-pound frame and the right wing only having modest numbers (68 points over 60 games) within coach Jeff Brown's team-first system. What Konency did Saturday added to his argument to be an early pick in the NHL draft in three months' time.
Fellow Central Scoutng-ranked forwards Dante Salituro (seven points) and Jeremiah Addison (six), are also off to a prolific start.
Konecny, who missed the final two weeks of the regular season with a mild shoulder injury, had to ration his physicality in Thursday's series opener. He served notice that wouldn't be the case in the opening shift Saturday with two checks on his first shift, including one that knocked down 6-foot-4, 200-pound Dallas Stars pick Aaron Haydon.
"Travis is a great player and he loves being out on the ice," said 67's defenceman Evan de Haan, who also missed some late-season games due to injury. "It probably just killed him to sit in the stands watching us play. He didn't lose his touch being out for a couple of weeks."
Niagara's home record since the calendar flipped to 2015 speaks for itself. Konecny and the 67's do seem buoyed, as well as nonplussed by the IceDogs' attempts to agitate.
"We're going to play our game and try not to sink to their level," Konecny said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.