It's time for the London Knights to grab a shovel.
To advance to a third straight OHL final, they'll have to quickly dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole against the big and fast Plymouth Whalers, starting tonight with Game 3 in the best-of-seven Western Conference final at 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.
This is a position London has not been in this post-season. The Knights swept the Owen Sound Attack in the first round, then jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Sault Ste. Marie before needing a seventh game to knock off the Greyhounds.
"We have character guys on this team and that's the biggest reason why we think we can still do this," London forward Pat Kane said. "The Soo came back from 3-0 down against us and maybe we can come back from 2-0 down in this series."
There have only been three times in the past four seasons when London has had to come from behind to win a series. Last year, the Knights rallied from a 2-1 deficit to oust Owen Sound in six games but also lost in four straight to the Peterborough Petes in the OHL final.
In the 2004 West final, London fought back from 3-1 down to Guelph before losing a seventh game on home ice to the Storm.
Including regular season and playoffs, Kane has scored 71 goals in his rookie year with London. But the skilled 18-year-old hasn't bulged the twine in the last two games and knows it's time for he and his mates to put on hard hats to go with those shovels.
"We have to learn a lesson from guys like Josh (Beaulieu) and Jordan (Foreman) and get guys going hard to the front of the net," Kane said.
"We need to get some screens, shoot through those and go for tip-ins. Maybe we need to cycle the puck down low and generate our chances that way. He (Plymouth goalie Michal Neuvirth) has seen a lot of the shots and good goalies should be able to save what they see."
There's little question London has been bogged down by an offensive funk lately. The Knights have lost five of their past six games and only scored eight times in those defeats, including just two goals so far against Plymouth.
When London was rolling, it converted a high percentage of its power-play opportunities and excelled at creating odd-man rushes. No team in the OHL is deadlier on a two-on-one or three-on-two than the Knights.
But the Whalers have done a textbook job of shutting down the vaunted London power play and have back-checked with such venom that the shifty Kane was caught on a breakaway attempt in Game 2.
"You can't take anything for granted out there," Kane said. "To pass the puck around for two minutes on the power play, we have to go and get it it first. We worked on that in practice. You have to possess the puck against these guys. That's where it begins."
There is some who believe Kane and Sam Gagner, both expected to be first-round picks in this summer's NHL draft, are costing themselves some money and selection position with their recent offensive struggles in the playoffs. The Whalers have eight NHL-drafted players and their size and speed is something the Knights stars will have to overcome and succeed against if they hope to play soon at the pro level.
But scouts rarely look at just one or two games when picking top prospects -- they consider the player's whole body of work across an entire season.
"Sam, Sergei (Kostitsyn) and I are just going to go out there and try to generate scoring chances," Kane said. "We know it can be done and if we get our looks, we're going to eventually get some."
Knights vs. Whalers
(Plymouth leads best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final 2-0)
Game 3: Today, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre
Game 4: Tomorrow, 7:05 p.m., Compuware Sports Arena, Plymouth