Nine East clubs in playoff battle

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

Forget about the London Knights just for a minute.

The Knights, in going 50-5-2 for 102 points, have sucked the suspense out of the Western Conference in the Ontario Hockey League, but a much different story is unfolding in the East.

With less than four weeks remaining in the regular season, a mere nine points separate the Peterborough Petes and Brampton Battalion (Eastern Conference leaders with 66 points each)and the ninth-place Kingston Frontenacs. The St. Michael's Majors hold down the final playoff spot with 58 points, one more than the Frontenacs' 57.

"For coaches and players, it will make for an excruciating month," Kingston coach Jim Hulton said. "We're on pace for the same record we had a year ago but then we were playing for a division title. We're talking about splitting hairs now.

Point a finger at the Majors if you're looking for a team to blame for the race for the last berth. They were scraping along among the league's bottom-feeders on New Year's Day but since then have reeled off 15 wins in 20 games.

The biggest difference for St. Mike's has been its re-discovered ability to score goals. Twins Tyler and Justin Donati, acquired from the Oshawa Generals last month, reportedly had some baggage, but instead have helped provide a spark.

"Now we're just worried about making the playoffs and getting the highest seed possible," Majors captain Nathan McIver said. "I knew when we started to brought in some new guys, we were going to start winning games."

The adage that anything can happen in the playoffs likely will ring true this spring. Many OHL observers expect the Knights to win the West, but no prediction is safe in the East.

"We would love to have a spot salted away and locked up, but it's fun every night," said Belleville Bulls general manager/coach George Burnett, whose club benefitted from a hot start last September and now is just a point better than Kingston. "But there has been a lot of parity in the second half. Teams are much more playoff-ready."

BRIEFLY

Overage winger Robin Big Snake of the Owen Sound Attack will return tonight against the Kitchener Rangers, Attack coach Mike Stothers said. Big Snake had been sent home to Alberta earlier this month for a second team curfew violation ... Mississauga IceDogs captain Patrick O'Sullivan had 10 points in four games and was named OHL player of the week.


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