Knights weather Storm, but just barely

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Fast starts have never been the hallmark of this year's London Knights.

But the defending Memorial Cup champions have more than made up for it with their routinely fantastic finishes.

Taking several pages from the old fable of the plodding tortoise and speedy hare, London crawled out of the gate and was run over by a hard-charging Guelph group before slowly but surely rallying for four late goals and a 5-3 victory in the best-of-seven Western Conference final opener before 9,090 last night at the John Labatt Centre.

London's red-hot forward Sergei Kostitsyn scored twice -- including the third-period winner on a laser blast over Guelph goalie Ryan MacDonald's shoulder -- to give the Knights a victory many on both sides of the ice knew they didn't fully deserve. The Montreal Canadiens draft pick has 10 goals in the postseason and is producing like he doesn't want to go home to Belarus for at least another month.

"Sergei's a dynamic player and he was probably our best player in the series against Owen Sound," said London forward Rob Schremp, who picked up three assists, but ran his scoring drought to eight games. "He's been great for us the past few games. It was a slow start for us, but never did we feel like we were out of it."

London looked helpless and disorganized in the first period and was outshot 12-2 in the opening 10 minutes. But Guelph, which built a 3-1 lead in the second period, couldn't put the game away and a string of penalties allowed the Knights back into it.

"We always seem to have slow starts. We seem to lay back and see what a team has before we start going," said London star David Bolland, who assisted on Kostitsyn's winner and added a long- distance empty-netter in his first game back from a four-game kicking suspension.

"We looked rusty at the beginning. I was rusty. It felt like it's been a long time since I last played."

Guelph outshot London 19-9 in that frenzied first period and 43-29 in the game, but the Knights relied on Adam Dennis, the OHL's all-time win king and reigning goalie of the year, to minimize the damage.

"It's really frustrating to lose this one, but no one thought we were going to come in here and win four straight against this team," said Guelph forward Matt D'Agostini. "We know what they're about and that it's not going to be easy. We just have to limit their power-play chances (London finished two-of-eight) and keep playing the way we did at the start."

Guelph thought it went up 4-1 in the second when Storm forward Jason Pitton wildly celebrated putting a puck past Dennis. But the goal was disallowed because Pitton scored with a second puck that mysteriously entered the playing surface while the original puck was safely in a corner.

No one really had an answer for where the other puck came from, but most figured it came from Dennis's equipment.

"I looked at the replay and it sure looked like it came from my pad when I kicked my leg out," the London goalie said. "I've had pucks in there before from warmup, but never for that long. I don't know how that happened."

Schremp felt Pitton looked silly for celebrating the goal -- especially in the era of instant replay -- but in playoff hockey, you can't fault a guy for trying to gain an edge.

Now, the series shifts back to the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre, where the Storm won all three regular-season meetings with London. With home-ice advantage, the Knights won't have to win a game in the Royal City unless the Storm steal one at the JLC.

"But we want to come out hard," Dennis said. "Our starts haven't been good and it's something we have to address. You can't always come from behind like that."

London forward Kris Belan played in last night's game and wasn't subject to additional discipline for the charging major that knocked Owen Sound defenceman Bob Sanguinetti from the decisive Game 6 of the second-round series. Though that contest was played Saturday night, the 19-year-old Florence native didn't find out the OHL's decision until a couple hours before last night's faceoff.

"I took a positive approach and tried to prepare the same way I would if I knew I was playing," Belan said. "It would be nice to have found out sooner, but I'm just glad that nothing was done and I'm able to play."

Owen Sound's Andrej Sek-era, who received a boarding major and game misconduct for nailing London's Trevor Kell shortly after Belan's hit, also escaped suspension.

London defenceman Frank Rediker, recovering from a dislocated elbow, won't be available until next week because his arm hasn't healed.

GAME GLANCE

Knights 5, Storm 3

London leads best-of-seven Western Conference final 1-0

London goals: Sergei Kostitsyn (2), Josh Beaulieu, Dylan Hunter and David Bolland into the empty net

Guelph goals: Kelsey Wilson, Tyler Doig, Rafael Rotter

Next: Game 2 is tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre.


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