It's been a wobbly, uncomfortable ride -- but the London Knights are back in the driver's seat.
London captain Dylan Hunter scored his second goal of the game -- and the biggest tally of the Knights' season so far -- with 1:17 left in the first overtime period for a 6-5 victory over Owen Sound before 9,090 last night at the John Labatt Centre.
The dramatic win propels London to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal and pushes the Attack to the brink of elimination with a quick turnaround for Game 6 tonight at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre.
The game-winning play wasn't without controversy. London forechecker Sergei Kostitsyn was rocked by Owen Sound defenceman Andrej Sekera behind the Attack net and while a delayed penalty was signalled, the wily Belarussian slipped the puck in front to Hunter, who pounded it past a disbelieving Attack goalie Michael Ouzas. The two Owen Sound players reacted like they heard a whistle before the goal.
"It looked like that's what they thought, but I didn't hear a whistle and Sergei did a nice job of getting the puck in front," Hunter said. "When you get to overtime, it's a whole new ball game. A lot of our leaders were stepping up. Rob Schremp was blocking shots. It was a huge win and we're going to try to go into Owen Sound and finish it off."
Owen Sound defenceman Bob Sanguinetti, who forced overtime on his second goal of the game with 35 seconds left in the third period when Hunter was unable to clear the puck twice, said the Attack figured the play had stopped with the Sekera infraction.
"It looked like Reggie (Sekera) was hooked and there wasn't a penalty called and then it looked like they thought there was a whistle -- that's what Ouzas said happened," Sanguinetti said. "It was back and forth in overtime with chances on both sides. We're just going to have to worry about this next game."
Kostitsyn also said he didn't hear a whistle and saw Hunter rushing for a near-open cage.
"I just took the hit, got up and gave the puck to the captain and he scored," he shrugged with a grin.
Trailing by a goal in the third, Hunter and banged-up bruiser Josh Beaulieu scored 1:43 apart to give the home side the short-lived lead.
Beaulieu, who is playing despite an injury suffered after running into the Owen Sound net on his first shift of the series, went hard to the cage and poked home a puck that appeared to be smothered by Ouzas on another questionable tally.
If London loses tonight, the series returns to the JLC on Monday for a do-or-die Game 7. The Knights would get suspended star forward David Bolland back for that tilt as he serves the final of his four game for kicking tonight.
London had a lot of unsung heroes arise in last night's contest. Spark-plug Jordan Foreman, who missed Game 4 with a leg injury and underwent vigorous therapy to ensure a hasty return, got his first goal of the playoffs on a short-handed effort in the second period to knot the game in the second period. The Knights required that tally because they couldn't duplicate their Game 4 penalty kill success at the start of the second when Sanguinetti cashed in on a two-man advantage.
London scored twice on the powerplay in the first period but surrendered a penalty shot goal to 18-year-old forward Derek Brochu, who was hauled down on a short-handed breakaway. The pesky Welland native consulted with Ouzas, a former training partner of Dennis in Toronto, before skating in and lifting a backhand over the OHL's top puckstopper.
Knights forward Kris Belan suited up for the first time since Game 3 of the first-round series against Sault Ste. Marie where he was thumbed five games for uttering a slur to referee Darcy Burchell, who officiated last night. The Florence native had not seen game action since March 26.
Owen Sound came into pivotal Game 5 thinking another victory at the JLC wasn't an impossible feat and nearly pulled it out again.
"We won here before (in Game 3) so that gives us a good feeling that we can do it again," Sanguinetti said.
London's defensive corps, which struggled to contain Owen Sound star Bobby Ryan at the beginning of the series, has done a better job at the back end keeping the second pick in the 2005 NHL draft at bay. Even though he didn't figure in his team's first four goals, Ryan's presence has forced the Knights to take notice of him and free up other Attack shooters.
"He works so well down low, he's tough to move and knock off the puck," London rookie defenceman Scott Aarssen said. "At that point, it becomes all positioning. You have to make sure he isn't able to walk right out and get a quality shot. You want to angle him and make him shoot or pass from a bad spot."
Owen Sound's biggest problem has been cracking Dennis, who played well again in the face of several quality scoring chances.
"We just have to move the puck around more and get him (Dennis) moving," Sanguinetti said. "We have to make it a little difficult for him to get ready for the shot."
By the time Game 5 rolls around in a series, there are few secrets still uncovered by the two teams.
"The longer the series goes, the more you have time to watch the tape and pick them apart," Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "We're pleased with how our defensive play has improved as we've gone along but we're still giving up too many shots. We have to cut down on their chances."
Knights 6, Attack 5 (OT)
(London leads best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal 3-2)
London goals: Robbie Drummond, Adam Perry, Jordan Foreman, Josh Beaulieu, Dylan Hunter (2), including the game winner with 1:17 left in the first overtime period.
Owen Sound goals: Derek Brochu, Scott Tregunna, Bob Sanguinetti (2), Andrej Sekera
Next: Game 6 goes tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre.