Drew Larman was proud of his battle scar yesterday -- a nice red welt under his bottom lip, a souvenir of a high-stick from one of the best players in the OHL.
"Mike Richards, off a faceoff," Larman smiled. "It was an accident."
But it was no accident that Larman was assigned by London Knights coach Dale Hunter to shadow Richards in Game 4 of the OHL Western Conference final Wednesday.
Forward Brandon Prust was suspended three games earlier in the day and Larman drew the job of checking the Kitchener Rangers sniper.
"So I guess what they're saying is I didn't get fired," Larman said after learning he'll be doing the same thing tonight at the John Labatt Centre.
The Knights have a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series after winning Wednesday's game 5-4 in overtime.
Richards didn't score but did draw three assists, giving him seven points in the series.
"Richards is one of the best players in the league and to have a job to cover him is a pretty big responsibility and I was happy to take that on," said Larman, who came to the Knights from the Sarnia Sting last October.
He and Richards didn't exchange pleasantries, unless you count the stick to the chin.
"I didn't really talk to him at all. My game isn't yipping. I just pretty much like to play hard and try to frustrate the top players."
The Knights are looking to clinch the conference title in the friendly confines of the John Labatt Centre, where they have lost only once in 40 games this season.
Goaltender Gerald Coleman likes his team's chances on home ice after the Knights limped into Kitchener without four regulars and won in overtime after falling behind 2-0.
Bryan Rodney and Trevor Kell are injured. Prust and Josh Beaulieu are suspended.
The Rangers tied it with 6.2 seconds left in regulation time. "We came back and won in their building when it looked like they were going to win, so that took a lot of steam out of their sail," Coleman said.
Rangers coach Peter DeBoer isn't worried that the OT loss will have a negative effect on his players. "A loss is never devastating until you're going home afterwards," he said.
"We've been in this position before. We've been down in a series (trailing Erie 2-0 in the first round before winning four straight). We've got a lot of character in our room, so that's the least of my concerns."
With four regulars out, London's young guns stepped up with Adam Perry, younger brother of Corey, and Jordan Foreman scoring their first goals of the postseason.
Perry was playing in only his third playoff game.
"All the young guys have to step up and this gives us a taste of what's to come, and if we need to step up in a couple of weeks when the Memorial Cup is here," Perry said.
"I'm pretty sure we'll all be ready. We're well rested anyway."
Foreman has dressed for all 12 playoff games but took a regular shift Wednesday.
"It's really good for our confidence and I think it's going to be really beneficial down the road," he said.
"I know for myself just getting more ice time and playing with guys like Corey Perry and Dylan Hunter is really beneficial for later on."
It was the Knights' first OT game in the playoffs.
"If we get into overtime again we know what to expect and I think we're going to be more comfortable," Foreman said.
Coach Dale Hunter keeps hearing the question of how his team will respond to adversity.
That was answered Wednesday, but even long before that, Hunter said, pointing to the record-setting 31-game unbeaten streak to start the season.
"In the streak, every game we had no room for error. The boys had pressure for a good month there and it was just like the playoffs."
The series: The Knights lead the Kitchener Rangers 3-1 in their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final. The winner meets the Ottawa 67's for the league championship after the 67's swept the Peterborough Petes in the Eastern Conference final.
Next: Game 5 is 7:30 p.m. tonight at the John Labatt Centre.
House of green: The Knights will wear their all-green third jersey tonight. The Rangers agreed yesterday to wear their white home sweaters. "We've asked our fans to wear green in the playoffs, but we never get a chance to wear green at home. So it's kind of nice with 8,000 fans wearing green that we can join them," said Knights assistant general manager Jim McKellar. Trainer Don Brankley and the Rangers' Dan Lebold worked out the arrangement.
Back to work: The 67's skated yesterday, 18 hours after eliminating the Petes in overtime. "That's one thing Eddie Shore taught me -- make them skate the next day, have them come in and get the air out of their heads," said 67's coach Brian Kilrea, who was coached by Shore in the minors in the 1960s. This is Kilrea's 10th trip to the final, with the 67's winning three times (2001, 1984, 1977).