No secret goaltending will be key

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Someone has to say it.

As tired, trite and predictable as it might be, it's a truism that makes hockey teams successful or kills them.

Goaltending wins playoff series.

So why say it?

Great goaltending is the only thing that will give the Guelph Storm a chance to upset the London Knights.

The Knights and the Storm open their best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League Western Conference quarterfinal Friday night at the John Labatt Centre.

The Knights are heavy favourites, although the Storm picked the last month to play their best hockey of the season.

In the final week, Guelph goaltender Brandon Foote stopped all but four shots in three games while picking up his first shutout of the season. Posting a 3-0 record on the weekend, he had a goals-against average of 1.50 and a save percentage of 0.958.

If Foote puts up anywhere close to those kind of numbers in this series, the Knights are going to have to have their hands full.

Even at that, it won't be enough for the Storm to upset the Knights, but it would make it interesting.

The Knights can tell you, thanks to bitter experience, what goaltending means in the playoffs. The Windsor Spitfires might well not be attempting to defend their OHL championship this year if the Knights had received decent goaltending from Trevor Cann last year.

But that's ancient history.

The Knights are far from the most naturally gifted goal-scoring team in the league. They create a lot of good chances, but don't capitalize.

Their strength is playing well in their

Michael Hutchinson will give the Knights solid goaltending. Their defensive system allows the forwards to provide a lot of help, cutting down on good scoring chances by the other team.

The Storm have four players -- Taylor Beck, Peter Holland, Michael Latta and Matthew Sisca -- who have 30-plus goals. They have scored more than half of Guelph's 242 goals. The Knights specialize in shutting down those kinds of players.

It's a requirement for a team that can't, and shouldn't, play run-and-gun with anybody.

Special teams are always a key. The Storm is No. 8 in the league on the power play. The Knights No. 6 in penalty-killing. That's a saw off.

The Knights have won five of six this season, including 8-1 and 7-3 blowouts. Toss those games out. You'll get games that were more like the other four -- 3-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-3.

The matchup is a good one for the Knights. They avoid long bus rides and they face a team that will force them to play disciplined hockey.

It will be good preparation for what lies ahead, because if they don't play that way, there will be nothing ahead except golf.

The Storm are well-coached. Former Knight Jason Brooks is one of those guys you hope does well. He's done a great job with the talent he has. If his players execute the game plan, the Storm will be in every game.

And yes, with a team like the Storm that has some dangerous scorers and should get good goaltending, an upset is always possible, especially with a strong start to the series.

Nothing provides an adrenaline rush like real hope.

The Knights won 49 games this season. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would have predicted that. They did it by playing the kind of hockey that is successful in the playoffs three months before the playoffs started.

The bottom line is simple. This will not be an easy series for the Knights and danger lurks if they don't pay attention to details.

In the end, the Knights will win in six.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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