SAULT STE. MARIE -- Robbie Drummond wasn't feeling very confident after returning from a major concussion three games ago.
Turning himself into a playoff overtime hero changed all that pretty quick.
The 21-year-old London captain scored 8:45 into overtime as the Knights grabbed a stranglehold on their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference semifinal series with a 6-5 victory over the Soo Greyhounds before 4,786 last night.
London, which has beaten the Sault 15 straight, is one win from returning to the Western Conference final for a fourth straight year and sweeping the Greyhounds from the playoffs twice in a row. They can thank Drummond, the longest-serving member of the team, for putting them there.
"It was a big goal for me," the London native said. "When you come back from an injury like that, you're kind of low on confidence and a goal, especially one when your team really needs it, can make a big difference.
"The puck just came to me in the slot and the goalie was out of position. I tried to go upstairs in case he tried to dive across and found a corner. We needed that because they came back on us (to force overtime) and it was nice to provide the spark."
Showing stubbornness at home and playing without suspended head coach Craig Hartsburg, Sault Ste. Marie bounced back from a 5-2 deficit by capitalizing on three London penalties in the third period. The Knights were outshot 13-5 in the frame and escaped disaster when Josh Godfrey's point blast found the back of their net a fraction after the buzzer ending the period.
"We showed a lot of character in the third period and we have to build from that," said Hartsburg, who handled his media obligations despite serving his two-game ban. "We had more players involved in the offence but the biggest thing is we scored some goals on (Steve) Mason. We have no choice but to take the positives and move forward."
Forward David Meckler scored three power-play goals in the second period for his second hat trick of the playoffs. The Knights victimized London native Kyle Gajewski for five goals on just 16 shots in the first two periods and looked to be cruising to a commanding series lead before the third period meltdown.
"When you're facing world-class shooters, they can do that to you because it's not easy to stop," Hartsburg said. "When you have Meckler blasting pucks at you, that's an NHL shot."
But Gajewski robbed Sergei Kostitsyn on a third-period breakaway to keep his team in it before they tied and London goalie Steve Mason, sharp in the first two periods, succumbed to the 'Hounds pressure with the man advantage. The big London goalie, who had never played before at the Steelback Centre because backup Stephane Cesar had been given the two regular-season starts here, had some trouble with the arena lighting early in the game.
"It reflected off my cage and you had to squint like when you need glasses for a while," Mason said. "The guys bailed me out and I was able to make a few good saves in overtime before Drummie won it for us. It was great to see him get it. Now, it's time to close it out.
"We don't want a fifth game in London (on Friday)."
London shut down the 57-year-old Sault Memorial Gardens on a David Bolland overtime winner to sweep last year's first-round playoff encounter. The Knights, who have won three straight playoff overtime games in the Sault, have a chance to end the first OHL season played in the new Steelback Centre, which was built on the same grounds as the former building.
London forward Josh Beaulieu, who assisted on the winning goal, returned to the lineup for the first time since March after earning a 10-game suspension for abuse of officials while trying to punish Kitchener defenceman Jakub Kindl, who had given Drummond a concussion with a check to the head on Feb. 20. The 20-year-old grinder also logged some important minutes on the penalty kill and worked hard along the boards and in the corner.
"It's a little different for Josh than it was for me because he's been able to skate all this time," Drummond said. "He was still able to stay conditioned but because of my injury, I didn't have that chance. It takes a game or two to get used to things."
Knights 6, Greyhounds 5 (OT)
Series: London leads best-of-seven OHL Western Conference semifinal 3-0
London goals: David Meckler (3), Pat Kane, Justin Taylor, Robbie Drummond
Sault Ste. Marie goals: Cody Thornton, Josh Godfrey, Jiri Tlusty, Dustin Jeffrey, Chris MacKinnon
Next: Game 4 is tonight at 7 p.m. in Sault Ste. Marie. Rogers Television will provide London area TV coverage on Channel 13.