SAULT STE. MARIE -- Scott Aarssen's sudden return to the lineup didn't help the London Knights win yesterday, but it could pay dividends in Game 7 tonight.
The 18-year-old veteran blue-liner was named the game's third star and drew an assist in a 5-4 loss to the Soo Greyhounds yesterday at the Steelback Centre that tied their OHL Western conference semifinal series 3-3 and has the Knights teetering on the brink of playoff elimination.
Aarssen, who is a big part of the glue that holds a patchwork group of London defencemen together, sat out Game 5 after being accidentally crushed by partner Todd Perry on Tuesday in the Sault. The Knights say he didn't suffer a concussion and had been cleared to play by doctors.
"I remember everything up until the hit -- I didn't know at the time if they (the Greyhounds) hit me or what happened," Aarssen said. "Todd talked to me and told me he was sorry and I have nothing against him at all for it. Nine times out of 10, he would come across and get one of their guys hard with a clean hit but it just happened he got me.
"It's nice to get back in the lineup but we'd rather be resting for another series. We didn't want this."
To his credit, Perry didn't become gun-shy about his bodychecking and doled out several big hits yesterday.
"I felt bad about it, but it's hockey and that stuff happens," Perry said. "A few inches to either side and nothing would've happened. But you can't change the way you play. I'm happy Scott's back because we need him."
Back together, Aarssen and Perry played against the Sault's big guns -- Dustin Jeffrey, Jiri Tlusty and Cody Thornton. They'll be back out there tonight, trying to shut that trio down and leading the Knights into the third round of the playoffs.
"We've done a good job on (Soo defenceman Josh) Godfrey but they like to cycle the puck and go down low, especially on the power play," London defenceman Todd Perry said. "We've been making adjustments and we're trying to do a better job against their forwards. The biggest thing is to separate them from the puck with your body. We've been pretty good in our own end. Our problem is they've had too many odd-man rushes and that's hard to defend."
The return of Aarssen allowed London to put captain Robbie Drummond back on forward. The Knights veteran had been playing on a defensive pairing with fellow converted forward Matt Clarke.
"I thought we had some pretty good chemistry and neither of us are afraid to jump up in the play on offence," Clarke said.
"We never really played on a forward line together but those get jumbled up a lot easier because it's three guys. On defence, you usually have a set partner so you work more together. The Soo comes hard and you just have to get in front of them, move the puck up the ice and not take any penalties."
London managed to alleviate one of Perry and Clarke's biggest concerns by scoring a power-play goal in the third period yesterday.
That goal broke the Knights' troubling 0-for-24 streak with the man advantage.
"That's our bread and butter and they've done a good job at taking that away from us," Perry said. "We have to win the special teams battle because, if we do that, we have a very good chance of winning the game."
Though London's top power-play unit logs a lot of ice time in a physically demanding contest, players like Pat Kane, Sam Gagner and Adam Perry have to be stronger on the puck because the Greyhounds are targeting them for turnovers.
"Especially on the penalty kill, you have to win the one-on-one battles and take their skill guys away from what they want to do," Soo captain Cody Thornton said.
"You're trying to get them into positions they don't want to be. They scored when Sammy (Gagner) had that tap-in, but they had pulled their goalie and six-on-fours are hard to kill."
After the loss, Sam Gagner and David Meckler grimly pedalled on stationary bikes -- symbolic since the Knights have worked hard, but gotten nowhere the past three games.
"We have to find a way," Gagner said. "We know we can do this."
They had four chances to knock off the Greyhounds and know they have just one to prove they belong in the third round of the playoffs.