Tail-tugged Knights bite back

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

Pull a dangerous animal's tail often enough and it's going to bite.

The Kitchener Rangers have pulled the London Knights tail and the Knights have bitten back, big time.

It had been a series where the Rangers' physical style teased, poked and prodded the Knights. But the Rangers had escaped unpunished.

Not last night.

The Knights put together their most complete game of the playoffs with a 6-1 win over the Rangers and a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final.

Their timing was perfect.

After Saturday's 3-1 Game 2 loss to the Rangers, there were some difficult questions asked of the Knights. How would they respond to adversity, something people believed they weren't used to facing? How would the respond to the Rangers' physical play? Had their power play, which was one-for-18, disappeared for the series or would it return? Would the Knights respond with a tougher, more intense effort?

They responded in a way that left no doubt they're made of championship stuff.

They responded to the Rangers' physical play with physical play of their own. When the Rangers took penalties, the Knights punished them with five power-play goals.

As for intensity, it was the Knights' most intense effort of the playoffs, killing 14 penalties, blocking dozens of shots and more than matching the hard-working Rangers step-for-step.

They did it even though they were short-handed on the blue-line with Bryan Rodney out and Danny Syvret suffering a neck injury when he was pushed into the boards by Ryan Donally of the Rangers.

Lost in the offensive explosion is a critical piece of the playoff puzzle . . . goaltending.

In a 6-1 hockey game, it would be easy to forget the goaltending. But the Knights' Adam Dennis was outstanding. He made key saves at 0-0, 2-0, and 3-0 and faced five five-on-three situations. The Knights have seen this type of goaltending before, last year when Dennis stoned them as a member of the Guelph Storm.

"That's as good as I've felt this year," said Dennis, who is alternating with Gerald Coleman.

Dennis is used to a lot more work.

"I'm sort of getting used to the other way. I can't control when I play, so I look for quality over quantity. When you do get in you want to make your starts count."

If there was ever a game that should lead to consecutive starts for a goaltender, last night was it. In a game many believed London had to have, the Knights were two men short a minute into the game.

"I knew the first goal was huge for us," said Dennis, who faced seven shots, several of them difficult, in two minutes. "I just wanted to keep us in the game."

Marc Methot talked about how important it was for the Knights to respond to the Rangers.

"This is by far the most physical series I've ever played in the OHL," he said. "That is their game plan. It shows with all the penalty minutes. I don't think it changes much in the way we play. We just have to stand up to what they are doing and not be shy with the loose pucks and win every battle."

They won them last night.

"We have to give it back to them. We're capable of doing that," Methot said.

The battle of the news conference has been as profound as the battle on the ice. Both coaches have complained about the officiating and their opponents' style of play.

It's become predictable.

Yes, it's a physical series. Yes, there is hacking, slashing and cheap shots, the same as there is in almost every playoff series, especially when one team is more skilled.

Any team that fancies itself a potential OHL champion simply has to play through it. It's going to take discipline and the ability to perform under pressure.

That's exactly how the Knights won last night.


Photos