Knights as good, but not better yet

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

WINDSOR -- The London Knights cleared a major hurdle last night.

They proved to the Windsor Spitfires and themselves they can play with the team that's been the best in the country for most of the season.

The truth is the Knights were the better team for most of last night.

Now they need to clear another hurdle, to find a way to forget they lost a game they should have won.

That might not be easy.

The Spitfires won 4-3 in overtime last night to open the best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final. Both teams have to be pinching themselves this morning. The Spitfires probably can't believe they won, while the Knights can't believe they lost.

For the better part of 50 minutes the Knights were the better team. They took a 3-1 lead into the third period. They did it by playing a complete game.

At one end, the Knights controlled the Spitfires high-powered offence. It's something they knew they had to do and they did it well.

There were a bunch of them who played well but Nazem Kadri, Carlson and Michael Del Zotto were the best they had.

The Knights showed discipline and attention in their own zone.

At the other end, the Knights used their skating ability to open up passing lanes and join the rush, often giving them odd-man rushes.

For most of the game the Spitfires looked as if they were skating in cement. They looked frustrated and without jump.

The Spitfires can explode offensively but it didn't look anywhere near happening on this night.

Then came the penalties. A two-man Knights' disadvantage led to the tying goals. A John Carlson-hooking penalty in overtime led to Ryan Ellis' winner.

Winning the game was like getting a gift on Christmas morning even though you were a bad boy.

You didn't deserve it but you'll take it thank you very much.

"They had a great game plan," said Spitfires' coach Bob Boughner. "They didn't give us much offensively and that was something we didn't see in the regular season. Obviously they were working hard and improving and there wasn't much available out there.

"I told the guys 'look how good our powerplay had to be . . .' I wasn't crazy about our five-on-five . . ."

This is uncharted territory for the Spitfires. The Knights have been to five conference finals in six years.

The Spitfires might have been the best team in the regular season but playoffs are something different.

The Spitfires responded to the adversity by coming back to win . . . it's a big boost for them.

Now the Knights need forget what happened and play the same way tomorrow night.

It was obviously a tough loss for the Knights.

At the post-game press conference coach Dale Hunter responded pretty much the same way to every question.

"We work hard. We play hard. That's part of the game," he said.

He did venture a 'no comment' when asked if Carlson's overtime penalty was indeed a penalty.

By the time the press conference was over, the Knights were on their bus and not available for comment.

They must have been tired by all that working hard and playing hard.

One thing is obvious especially after the opener, despite what has to be tremendous intensity in the dressing rooms the teams know they can't lose control of their emotions.

The Spitfires scored four power-play goals last night and the Knights had one along with a shorthanded goal.

Staying out of the penalty box is a must.

"We're just here to play hockey and Windsor's here to play hockey," Knights' Justin Taylor said before the game. "That's all we have to do is play hockey."

Last night they did just that.

If they did the same thing tomorrow night, the result will be much different.


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