Setup guy joins barrage

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

At long last, Daniel Erlich joined the party.

For nearly eight games, the little London Knights sparkplug watched his buddies wear out the red light.

Phil Varone already has eight goals in the playoffs of his life.

Nazem Kadri has seven and may be playing better than he did in last year's Memorial Cup march with Kitchener.

Setup guy Erlich finally got a goal to call his own, a third-period backbreaker after stripping Saginaw defender TJ Brodie to make it 4-1 and seal the Knights' three-game series stranglehold over the Spirit before 9,090 last night at the John Labatt Centre.

But you can't please everyone. London rookie Jared Knight, already a two-goal veteran this series, didn't like the celebration.

"Bad celly," Knight said of Erlich's arm-pumping extravaganza past the Saginaw bench.

""It wasn't aimed at (the Spirit)," Erlich said with a grin. "It was just in the moment. I was in a scoring slump. I was nervous about it and thinking too much. But I didn't think about it this time. When you don't, that's when it happens and you score."

The Erlich-Varone-Kadri line had been the Knights' best in the playoffs. London head coach Dale Hunter broke them up as a unit.

They all scored.

"Those guys (Kadri and Varone) are having great playoffs," the 18-year-old Erlich said. "They were setting me up great but I was in a slump. We got broke up but on this team, it doesn't matter who you play with. We all work well together and we're all teammates.

"We're all happy for each other no matter who scores."

The Spirit aren't too happy right now. They made it out of the first round for the first time in team history but now they're back on the brink.

The Knights can bring out the brooms in Saginaw tomorrow night and be the first team to reach the OHL's Western Conference final.

"You always want to finish it off and get the extra rest and the week off or whatever it is, but we know Saginaw won't want that to happen," Erlich said. "They're going to come hard and the fourth game is always the hardest to win."

Saginaw goalie Eddie Pasquale hasn't been at his best, but the Knights figure they'd have even more goals if not for the top-rated NHL draft prospect.

"We've been plastering him with shots and you almost feel bad for the guy," Erlich said.

"We're getting 30 chances a game but Eddie's a great goalie and it's tough," London assistant Pat Curcio added. "It's the old ratio of five-to-one. You figure for every five, you'll get at least one. Scoring is almost all in the head. Hockey has always been a mental game. You can read all the books you want and it's 10% physical and the rest is the mental aspect."

Curcio used to coach Pasquale. Varone, for a couple of years, was his teammate with the Toronto Junior Canadiens minor program and never met a more focused goalie.

But Varone has the upper hand.

He beaten his old mate in all three games of the series. He has scored in every playoff contest except the Jaroslav Janus shutout in Erie during Round 1. "It's all about confidence," Varone said. "I don't care who I play with. It doesn't matter to me. I know as long as I'm working hard and taking care of my own end, the chances are going to come."

It may be strange to see someone other than John Tavares leading the team in scoring, but the Knights are finally supporting their star sniper.

"It was an adjustment period (when he showed up)," Varone said. "Everyone had to get used to each other. We're doing a lot better now and John has been playing great. There's nothing wrong with what he's doing out there. The rest of us are just chipping in, too."

Zac Rinaldo was a magnet for some of the chippiness that accompanied the contest. The Philly prospect returned to the lineup after serving a six-game suspension for checking Erie's Ryan O'Reilly from behind in the playoff opener.

The Knights could need more of his aggravating style. Dominic DeSando, an effective part of London's best checking line with Leigh Salters and Jason Wilson, left early with a right upper-body injury. Hemissed most of the regular season recovering from shoulder surgery.

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GAME GLANCE

Knights 4, Spirit 1

Series: London leads best-of-seven OHL Western Conference semifinal 3-0

London goals: Phil Varone, Nazem Kadri, Matt Clarke, Daniel Erlich

Saginaw goal: Joe Underwood

Next: Game 4 is tomorrow night in Saginaw at 7:11 p.m.


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