Bulls delay Knight record

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

BELLEVILLE -- The record book will have to wait for at least one more day.

The Belleville Bulls handed the London Knights just their third loss last night, edging the team 2-1 before a crowd of 3,174 at Yardmen Arena.

The Knights, who had beaten the Bulls 8-2 on Nov. 12 at the John Labatt Centre, were looking to become the quickest team to clinch a playoff spot in OHL history -- and quite possibly Canadian Hockey League history.

The Knights, 38-3-2-0, saw an eight-game winning streak end with Jeff Leavitt's third goal of the season at 2:11 of the third period.

The Bulls, 19-18-5-3 and seventh in the Eastern Conference, received the performance of a lifetime from goalie Kevin Lalande, who stopped 42 shots.

"The extra motivation was there, with good reason," said Lalande, who passed the credit to his teammates. "This was an overall team effort and the guys played some textbook hockey tonight."

Lalande said the Bulls weren't intimidated by the Knights' record or their lineup. "When you play against guys this calibre, you can't really think about that. You've got to stay focused and just do your job. You can't control what they're doing. It's all about your game.

"That was the plan at the start. We were going to play our own game and never mind about these guys."

It was the first loss for the Corey Perry and Danny Syvret, who were with the Canadian juniors when the Knights lost the other two.

Lalande stoned Perry -- the league's scoring leader --, twice early in the second period, including on a short-handed breakaway. "He played really well. You've got to give a lot of credit to him," Perry said of Lalande.

"We created a lot of chances. The puck rolled across the goal line, off the goalie's mask and everything without hitting the net."

The teams traded goals in the first period, Belleville's Matt Kelly scoring for at 13:52, then Dan Fritsche at 15:34.

"We had a lot of scoring chances," said Knights coach Dale Hunter. "It's not like we weren't trying to score, but you've got to finish, that's the bottom line.

"We out-chanced them big-time. We were all over them. They were very leaky defensively. They gave us lots of chances. But the goalie was first star, bottom-line. That's the only reason they won."

Bulls coach George Burnett, who played in London in 1979-83, said it was mind over matter for his team.

"First and foremost, we tried to convince our guys we control how hard we work and how hard we compete. They don't control that," he said.

"So let's first of all have 20 guys come to play and we had that from top to bottom.

"There was probably some fear there in the skill that's across the ice, but we talked about a couple things. One, staying out of the penalty box and we gave up only two power-play opportunities, so a credit to our guys for playing pretty smart.

"We also worked hard on having three guys high all night, so we didn't get into an end-to-end game. Other than the Perry breakaway away shorthanded, we only gave up one or two other odd-man type situations.

"Every passing shift our guys gained more and more confidence and got more and more excited about, 'Hey, we can do this.' "

For a team that usually outshoots its opponent by a wide margin, the Knights are only averaging 4.1 goals a game.

"We score an average of four goals a game and that's been good enough," Fritsche said.

"This thing is, if four goals a game is not enough, we know with the offensive power we have on this team we can come up with a big goal if we have to. We just have to be patient."

Fritsche said that even though it was only his fourth game with the Knights after a Jan. 10 trade from Sarnia, "this loss hurts big-time.

"The team is so successful and there's so much high expectations, we go into every game like we're going to win."

GAME GLANCE

Bulls 2, Knights 1

Belleville goals: Matt Kelly, Jeff Leavitt

London goal: Dan Fritsche

Next: The Knights are in Peterbrough tonight, than onto Kingston tomorrow night and Ottawa on Sunday afternoon.


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