Knights keep hope alive

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

PLYMOUTH -- The London Knights have finally proven the Plymouth Whalers aren't invincible.

Now they simply have to do it again and again and again to win the OHL's Western Conference final.

Facing elimination and the embarrassment of being swept into the offseason, the Knights broke out of a series-long offensive slump and forced a Game 5 on home ice tomorrow with a 5-2 victory before about 3,110 fans last night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

London's Sam Gagner and Pat Kane, held scoreless in the first three games, combined for the Knights' first three goals. Gagner's second of the second period -- an innocent looking dump-in from outside the blue-line that Plymouth goalie Michal Neuvirth whiffed on -- gave London its first two-goal lead of the series.

"It was the end of a long shift and I was just trying to dump it and get off the ice and it took a bounce and got by him," 17-year-old Gagner said. "I thought we worked hard all series and definitely, it's nice to see a couple go in. We're playing with our backs against the wall but it's obviously a nice feeling to go home and play again in front of our fans.

"After the standing ovation they gave us (at the end of Game 3), we all said we didn't want that to be the last game we played there this season."

London, which had the best road record in OHL history in the regular season at 29-5, handed Plymouth its first loss at home in 22 games. London goalie Steve Mason kicked aside 50 Plymouth shots to rebound after being yanked in the third period of a 5-2 defeat Monday.

"It was a horrible bounce," Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci said of Gagner's knuckleball goal. "It's too bad because Michal's played well all series. We generated 28 quality chances in their building (Monday) and I don't think we got enough (last night) on net and didn't get traffic in front until the third period."

"I told the team after the same thing I told them before the game. The fourth game is always the hardest to win and London isn't going to roll over for us. It's not going to be easy," Vellucci said.

Plymouth, which surrendered three power-play goals after riding a stout penalty kill in three victories, saw a different London team that produced fewer turnovers in its own end and showed a lot more resolve in fighting for the puck. Vellucci didn't think his team took any irresponsible penalties but the aggressive Whalers haven't had to play from behind much this post-season and displayed frustration when the game wasn't going their way.

"We were a lot stronger in our own zone," Mason said. "We took care of our zone more than the previous three games. I prefer, myself, to have a clear look at the shots rather than try to make a block and have it deflect off something. The defence and forwards were getting out of the way."

Showing the skill that will surely make them two of the top picks in this summer's NHL draft, Gagner scored on a spinning shot in the slot to put the Knights on the board and Kane calmly hammered home a breakaway effort after picking up a pass on the fly from Sergei Kostitsyn to give his a team a lead they would never surrender.

"Maybe they came a little harder but they were trying to get in behind us and they did when Kane got behind me on that one goal," Whalers captain Steve Ward said. "We just have to play our own game and come out hard and we'll be all right."

The pressure isn't on Plymouth because London still has to prove it can win on home ice after two failed attempts in this series.

The two teams were sent to their dressing rooms with 4:37 left in the first period after a couple of lights went out in the building. When play resumed, Plymouth opened the scoring when Evan Brophy scored his third goal of the series.

GAME GLANCE

Knights 5, Whalers 2

Series: Plymouth leads best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final 3-1

London goals: Sam Gagner (2), Pat Kane, Josh Beaulieu, David Meckler

Plymouth goals: Evan Brophey, Steve Ward

Next: Game 5 is tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.


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