Knights foot soldiers 'step up'

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

Another struggle. Another battle. Another heart-in-mouth game. Why expect anything different?

The London Knights took a 2-0 lead in their OHL Western Conference quarter-final series last night with a 2-1 win over the Storm.

It was more outstanding goaltending by Ryan MacDonald for the Storm. More penalties and more tough play and a series where London's grinders and muckers are taking the spotlight away from the offensive stars.

"Usually five-on-five we dominate," the Knights' Rob Schremp said. "But there's a lot of grabbing and holding along the boards and it's tough to play that way. That's why we need guys like (Brandon Prust, Kelly Thomson) to get in there and weaken up their back end. Guys like (Jordan Foreman) are playing great."

But five-on-five hasn't been the picture of beauty it's been for the Knights most of the season. The Storm simply won't let them play that way.

"We can play any way we have to. We can grind. We can trap. We can all-out blitz," Schremp said. "We can play a 9-1 game or we can play a 2-1 game."

There doesn't appear to be a 9-1 game in the cards, unless MacDonald suddenly turns human.

In two games the Knights have outshot the Storm 90-38. Yet they've been life and death to win both times.

Game 2 was almost a mirror image of Game 1, especially in the first two periods. The Knights had chance after chance on MacDonald but just couldn't break the game open.

"He's been awesome," Schremp said of MacDonald, who was a close friend when the goalie was a member of the Knights. "He knows our power play. He knows where we shoot. I've been shooting on him for two years."

Schremp rang a shot off the crossbar in the second period.

"Maybe if I get one, I can break out," said Schremp, whose 23 power-play goals led the league.

In the meantime, it's going to be foot soldiers like Trevor Kell, Josh Beaulieu and Drew Larman who need to perform.

"You can't win a series like this with just finesse players," Schremp said. "Those other guys are really stepping up."

They need to.

Even though the Knights have managed to create a great many opportunities, they haven't looked sharp offensively. A great deal of that has to do with the aggressiveness of the Storm and their ability to kill penalties.

While the Knights have sung from the same "no-we-don't-feel-frustrated" songbook when it comes to their lack of production, what appears on the ice paints a tad different picture.

Yes, they are in control of most of the play and yes, they are a long way from being in trouble. But even though the Storm finished another time zone behind in the regular-season standings, this was not the team the Knights wanted to face.

London's Dan Fritsche said before the playoffs opened that there aren't any easy series.

"This team knows how to play," he said. "There are no easy series and this might wind up being the toughest."

Two games up might make the Knights a little less tense. Plus this so-far tough series offers a glass-half-full scenario.

Should they go on to beat out Guelph, it will prove far more beneficial to them later in the playoffs than if the Storm had simply rolled over and played dead.


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