In terms of big games, tonight beats 'em all

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

It's Game 79 when it comes to games that count for the London Knights.

It's by far the most important.

Win it and everything is still in play.

Lose it and the proverbial fat lady begins to loosen up her vocal chords.

The Knights and Windsor Spitfires meet tonight in Game 2 of the OHL Western Conference final.

The Knights outplayed and outperformed the favoured Spitfires in Game 1 on Wednesday.

But they didn't outscore the Spitfires, losing 4-3 in overtime after giving up a 3-1 third-period lead, and that's all that really counts.

The Knights should be kicking themselves for letting that one get away.

What a win in that game would have done for them is immeasurable.

The Knights were ready to play. They were well prepared both mentally and physically, yet they didn't close the deal.

These playoff Spitfires are not the Spitfires of the regular season. They aren't getting the same kind of goaltending and they aren't skating with the same fluidity. They are feeling the weight of expectations and being the primary target of every team they play game in and game out.

The Spitfires don't get anybody's B game. They are getting a good look at how difficult it is to run the table.

But like all teams who go through a period of not playing as well as they can, this is time sensitive. Good teams find a way to return to playing the kind of hockey that made them successful.

Sometimes all it takes is a jolt of adrenaline to get them back. The Spitfires third-period surge and overtime win might have done it. It certainly helped that goalie Andrew Engelage, who looked nervous in the first two periods, suddenly was a prime player in the rebirth.

It will be out there for all to see tonight.

Are the Knights over the shock of losing?

Are the Spitfires finally going to realize if they continue to play mediocre hockey, they'll play the price no matter what they did during the regular season?

Will Knights coach Dale Hunter say anything other than "they play hard, they work hard," at the postgame press conference?

The Spitfires must play better. Escapes such as the one they pulled in Game 1 don't happen very often, especially against good teams.

They got very little from their top players other than Ryan Ellis. They need more players to step up.

There is a lesson to be learned by a team that hasn't gone this deep in the playoffs in a long time. There is no turning the tap on and off.

The Knights got a lot more from their top guys.

That's why there are plenty of good things the Knights can take into the game.

But all that nice stuff means nothing unless they win.

A loss after a near-loss in the opener will eat away at the Spitfires' confidence especially since they are smart enough to recognize they haven't played well in the playoffs.

But the Knights can't go back to Windsor two games down. Then you'll have to deal with a Spitfires team that has momentum and confidence along with a two-game lead.

A win restores the kind of confidence the Knights had when they entered this series.

They believed they could win coming in. There was nothing they saw in Game 1 that should change that.

But if they don't get the right result they need tonight, what they believe isn't going to be worth a thing.

The Spitfires must play better. Escapes such as the one they pulled in Game 1 don't happen very often, especially against good teams.


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