Hot Rangers ride Pfligler

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Danny Syvret is curious to find out what Eric Pfligler is all about.

"It should be interesting to see what he has in store," Syvret, the captain of the London Knights, said in reference to the Kitchener Rangers goaltender. "It's good to see that kind of story. He has stepped in and done a good job for them."

Indeed, Pfligler has, but whether it will amount to much against the Knights is another matter.

The Rangers, who meet the Knights in Game 1 of the Ontario Hockey League Western Conference final Thursday night at the John Labatt Centre in London, have reeled off eight consecutive playoff wins and and Pfligler has been crucial in that run.

A career backup who had some playoff success with Green Bay of the United States Hockey League a few years ago, Pfligler has been superb for the Rangers since starter Dan Turple went down with a shoulder injury in the first round against the Erie Otters.

Pfligler, all five feet, eight inches and 177 pounds of him, is 8-0 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average in the playoffs. This from a guy who won twice in 26 games with the sad-sack Saginaw Spirit in 2003-04 before an off-season trade last summer took him to Kitchener.

As Turple's reliever this past season, Pfligler was 9-5-2 in 17 games.

Turple is expected to return at some point against London, but Rangers general manager/coach Peter DeBoer said Pfligler has earned the right to start Game 1.

"He had shown flashes of being a good goaltender (prior to the playoffs), but not enough to take the No. 1 job," DeBoer said. "I don't think anyone could foresee what Eric was going to do for us."

A native of the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Pfligler attended a couple of Blackhawks game each season as a kid and became a fan of then-Hawks netminder Ed Belfour. Though he said he is trying not to think too much of facing the top junior team in the country, Pfligler will have to emulate Belfour if the Rangers are to upset the Knights in the best-of-seven.

"The biggest change with them is I'm going to have to be more patient because they're such a good passing team," Pfligler, 19, said. "It's going to be tough, but I don't really think of who they are. I'm just going to try to block all of that out."

It will be fun for fans of both teams to watch how Rangers captain Michael Richards and Knights star Corey Perry fare in the series.

Because London has such a deep crew of forwards, DeBoer said it is doubtful he will give Richards the assignment of checking Perry.

Also starting Thursday is the Eastern Conference final, pitting the PeterboroughPetes against the Ottawa 67's.

Both sides are well aware that if London, the Memorial Cup host, ousts Kitchener, the winner in the East will have to win only the conference championship to play in the Memorial Cup.

"Everyone thinks London is going to move on, but who knows?" Petes goalie Jeff MacDougald said.

"We have to take this series (against Ottawa)as though it is going to give us a berth, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves."

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WESTERN

LONDON (1) VS. KITCHENER (4)

Season series: Knights won 6-0-0

The skinny: London's Corey Perry and Kitchener's Michael Richards are tied atop the playoff scoring lead with 21 points each ... Both clubs have won eight in a row ... Teams haven't met since mid-January ... The Knights have scored on 34% of power-play chances in playoffs ... Rangers defenceman Andre Benoit yesterday named OHL overage player of the year.

Prediction: Knights in six

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EASTERN

PETERBOROUGH (2) VS. OTTAWA (6)

Season series: Petes won 4-2-2

The skinny: From an OHL coaching standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Brian Kilrea vs. Dick Todd ... Peterborough's four wins in season series were at home ... Petes' Daniel Ryder (12) and Liam Reddox (10) combined for 22 points against 67's ... Both teams are 6-0 on home ice in the playoffs ... At 88.5%, the Petes have best penalty kill in playoffs.

Prediction: Petes in 7

RECORD: 6-6


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