Knights cautioned by upsets

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

In the minds of many, the OHL's Western Conference final matchup is already decided.

The London Knights and Windsor Spitfires will duke it out, they say. The playoff rounds before that are nothing more than appetizers.

The Erie Otters and London Knights open their Western Conference best-of-seven quarterfinal series Friday in London with Game 2 Saturday, also in London.

The Knights have won all six meetings between the two teams, adding fuel for the argument that the Knights are destined to meet the Spitfires.

You won't convince hockey people, though, that anything is set in stone. They've seen too many upsets to take anything for granted.

"I laugh when I hear that people are already saying it's going to be us and Windsor," said Pat Curcio, Knights assistant coach. "What we've done so far this season means nothing. It all starts Friday."

Curcio fired off some prime examples of why nothing can be taken for granted. He talked about the recent playoffs in the Russian elite league. The No. 1 team played the No. 16 team and lost. Curcio then talked about the Swiss league where the No. 1 team was dumped by the No. 8 team.

"And those examples are only in the last two weeks. There are plenty more examples of that and I've already talked to our team about it," he said.

The Knights coaching staff knows the dangers of over-confidence.

Some of the Knights skated yesterday. The team arrived home early yesterday morning after their trip to Sault Ste. Marie for their last regular-season game. The Knights beat the Greyhounds 6-1.

The Knights won without taking John Tavares, Justin Taylor, John Carlson and goalie Trevor Cann on the trip, giving them a rest before the playoffs.

Still, the game proved no contest.

Michael Del Zotto scored twice Saturday night. Jared Knight had a goal and two assists, while Leigh Salters, Zac Rinaldo and Jason Wilson also scored. Kyle DeCoste had the lone goal for Sault Ste. Marie as Stephen Heming made 20 saves for London.

While the Knights have won all six games against Erie this year, the games got tougher as the season progressed. In one game in Erie, the Otters came back from a 5-0 deficit to force overtime before losing.

"I tell our players that winning a playoff series is hard work, no matter who you play," Curcio said. "Winning that fourth game is always the hardest thing to do."

For the message to sink in, there has to be some evidence that the team you are playing is a threat and that means more than simply having to endure a trip to Erie, which is never an easy experience.

Curcio rattles off several reasons why this series is tougher than it looks.

"People don't want to understand that Erie is a heck of a hockey club," he says. "They have three good lines, they work hard, they are well coached and they have one of the best young goaltenders in the world."

That goaltender is Slovak Jaroslav Janus, who is already on the radar for the Slovak men's national team.

The Knights have been playing well over the last 10 games. Coming on the heels of a bad January and early February, the Knights aren't far removed from understanding what it's like to have to battle for every point. That was a time when every game, no matter who wore the opposing sweater, was a struggle.

"This season series (with Erie) was closer than you realize. There was a shootout and two overtimes," Curcio said. "This series could have been split during the season."

This is what the coaching staff will continue to pound away at this week: Take nothing for granted.


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