Opener sets tough tone for series

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

It was everything expected of the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers.

It whetted the appetite for more.

The London Knights defeated the Kitchener Rangers 3-2 in the first game of their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final last night.

A game the Knights seemingly had under control with a 3-0 lead turned into a heart-in-the-throat affair, with the Rangers all over the Knights in their own zone late in the game.

At the end of it, emotions -- which were strained all night -- boiled over. At the final whistle, there was a giant scrum on the ice while two of the top players in the league -- London's Corey Perry and Kitchener's Mike Richards -- brawled at centre ice.

If you're wondering how long it would take for this series to get heated, wonder no longer. By the end of the first period, everyone was jawing at everyone else.

By the end of the game, Rangers coach Peter DeBoer was accusing the Knights staff of baiting his players on the ice. Knights coach Dale Hunter said the Rangers "slash a lot."

As for Richards, no doubt the fight at the end of the game was a good way for him to get rid of some of the frustration of having to deal Brandon Prust all night.

It didn't take long for everyone to get a clear picture of what was going to happen, at least in Game 1.

The Rangers opened with David Clarkson, Craig Voakes and Richards. The Knights started Josh Beaulieu, Prust and Trevor Kell.

Prust and Richards will get to know each other very well before this series is over.

The mantra has been chanted since the two teams found out they would meet each other. Stop Richards and you stop the Rangers.

That's Prust's job. And a fine job he did.

Richards managed to get loose to score a power-play goal in the third period but he knew he was in a game. It was hard for Richards, very hard.

It wasn't easy for Prust, either. His partners Kell and Beaulieu also had strong games, but Prust made Richards look human.

"Richards will get in there and be physical," he said.

"He'll get in the corner and win battles along the boards. He's a hard-nosed player. He'll battle until the end."

Richards tried to keep his cool but near the end of the first period, he got Prust with the stick.

"He got me in the throat but I think it was more an accident when he was turning away," Prust said.

In the second, displeased with the work of referee Mark Hicks and with the way the game was going, Richards slammed his stick on the glass as he was leaving the ice.

"He never said much on the ice," said Prust. "He just keeps working. You can't let up on him."

But Prust was the real story. He was a dominant defensive force. It wasn't just the job he did on Richards; it was the job he did every time he was on the ice. He was in Richards' face. He made himself the target. The Rangers had trouble handling his level of annoyance. Prust forced the Rangers to draw three penalties, including ones on Voakes and Boris Valabik.

He also took a penalty, nailing Clarkson with an elbow.

As well, Prust won several key faceoffs and battles in his defensive zone in the last minute with the Rangers playing with six attackers.

After the game, Richards was his composed self, calling his fight with Perry "having a little fun.

"We're not friends on the ice but we're friends off," Richards said . "He sort of flew in there and started throwing punches at (the Rangers' Matt) Lashoff. Before you knew it, we were face to face . . . so why not."

Richards did do a good job of killing penalties. He had plenty of practice, killing eight of nine.

One other important factor in the win: the Knights' Bryan Rodney and Danny Syvret outplayed Rangers top defenceman Andre Benoit.

Game 2 is tomorrow night in Kitchener. If it's anything like Game 1, it will provide plenty of things to talk about.


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