Knights' season on line

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

There's a power shift in progress among the OHL's Western Conference elite.

The big, bruising Plymouth Whalers can feel it and the London Knights will have to move mountains to prevent it.

The Knights are just one loss away from being unceremoniously swept off their three-year throne after a 5-2 defeat gave the Whalers a steely grip on the best-of-seven conference final before 9,090 fans last night at the John Labatt Centre.

Plymouth can end it tonight at the Compuware Sports Arena, where they haven't lost in 21 games since a Jan. 6 defeat to Saginaw. The Knights have been outscored 15-4 in this series by converting too few opportunities and committing too many giveaways in front of their net.

"I don't want it to be over. There are more games I want to play here," London over-age defenceman Todd Perry said after his team received a standing ovation from a JLC crowd unsure if it will see the team on home ice again this season. "It's frustrating. The difference is we haven't capitalized on our chances and they're a team that doesn't give out a lot of chances."

All series, Plymouth has been the better team in the third period and has systematically snuffed out any hopes of a late London comeback. Leading 3-1 after two periods, the Whalers scored 2:06 into the third to chase London starting goalie Steve Mason, then victimized replacement Stephane Cesar only 54 seconds later.

"I think our depth is the key -- we use a lot of players and the guys who don't play on the power play are the ones out there on the penalty kill," said Plymouth forward Sean O'Connor, who scored twice. "We're fresh late in games and Mike (head coach Vellucci) keeps us well-conditioned.

"We're playing a team that plays top end guys a lot of minutes but I don't think they're tired. In the playoffs, adrenaline goes a long way."

If there's one lesson learned through three Plymouth wins, it's that London's skill is nice to have, but might often makes right, especially when the big guys can skate and shoot too.

The Whalers forecheck has exposed London's tentative play in the defensive zone and forced tantalizing turnovers, none more glaring than James Neal's stripping the puck from London captain Robbie Drummond late in the second period to put his team up 3-1.

Early in the third, London struggled to gain possession in its own end and paid a heavy price.

"We have to come out every period ready to play," Todd Perry said. "We had a good start and could've led by a few goals but it's deflating when they score a couple of goals at the start of the period. As a team, we have to improve on that."

The Whalers, who finished one point behind the Knights for the OHL's regular season title, improved to 11-1 in these playoffs.

"I knew when I came here that we'd have a good team in a couple of years," Neal said. "We're an older team and we have a lot of leaders. London had that base and we want to become what London had a few years ago with Corey Perry and Rob Schremp. We don't have that kind of talent but you work with what you got.

"We've always had a big, physical team. That's the way I always try to play and the way Tom Sestito plays and Jared Boll, who we were fortunate to get to come here instead of the college route. "

London, which has lost six of its last seven games, needs a miracle comeback much like the one the Soo Greyhounds almost staged against the Knights in the second round.

Trying to change their fortunes, London shuffled the personnel and look of its power play early in the game. In a rapid shift of his five-forward philosophy, London head coach Dale Hunter had two defencemen -- Scott Aarssen and Kevin Montgomery -- on the point during the man advantage.

GAME GLANCE

Whalers 5, Knights 2

Series: Plymouth leads best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final 3-0

Plymouth goals: Sean O'Connor (2), Daniel Ryder, James Neal, Ryan McGinnis

London goals: Sergei Kostitsyn, Josh Beaulieu

Next: Game 4 is tonight at 7:05 p.m. in Plymouth, Mich.


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