Win significant for Knights

Stephen Sanza of the London Knights is knocked flying in front of Windsor Spitfires goalie Philipp...

Stephen Sanza of the London Knights is knocked flying in front of Windsor Spitfires goalie Philipp Grubauer during first period action at the John Labatt Centre on Friday night. The Knights won 4-3. (SUE REEVE/QMI Agency)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

The white board in the media room at the John Labatt Centre is usually reserved for players scratched from the game, additions to the lineup and starting goaltenders.

"Why are they posting the starting lineup?" someone said prior to the Windsor Spitfires-London Knights game Friday at the JLC.

It was an understandable mistake. Sitting out were Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, Adam Wallace, Marc Cantin, Saverio Posa and Greg Nemisz.

Hall, Ellis and Wallace were rested. Cantin, Posa and Nemisz were hurt.

Hall is in the middle of a scoring race but was asked by coach Bob Boughner if he wanted to play or rest. Taylor opted for a rest. All the changes for the Spitfires have become almost commonplace.

The 4-3 overtime win for London was meaningless to the Spitfires but important to the Knights. They had to prove they could beat Windsor even though the Spitfires were short-handed.

The importance of the win for the Knights was evident after Nazem Kadri scored in overtime. The Knights poured off the bench and piled on him. You would have thought the Knights had just won a championship.

But the Knights needed something and that something was hope. Without a win, they had no hope.

Now there is a smidgen of it.

The Spitfires have won 50 games and it doesn't seem to be good enough.

Returning so many quality players, many expected the Spitfires to win even more games this year.

Hardly an unreasonable expectation.

With the playoffs a week away there is a belief in some corners that the Spitfires may not be as good as they were last year.

"Not true at all," Spits defenceman Mark Cundari said.

"We've gone through a lot of adversity during the season. We had a ton of injuries," Cundari said. "I don't think we've had a full lineup since the world junior. Come playoff time when we establish a full lineup, it's going to be totally different game."

There's no questioning they have the ability to repeat. But over the last few months, the smidgen of hope has grown for everyone else. The Knights and Plymouth Whalers believe an upset is possible.

The way the Spitfires played up to Christmas, there was no hope. It was going to be the Spitfires or the Barrie Colts. It's one reason there was so little action at the trade deadline by anyone other than Barrie and Windsor. But the defending Memorial Cup champions have rarely had the same lineup two games in succession, especially since December when they lost a handful of players to the world junior tournament.

Cundari admits to the Spitfires having some trouble finding their way.

"It's been a lot harder this year," he said. "Last year we had the motivation of having never won it. We were always bringing it to the next level every game. This year a lot of the guys felt we had already won it  so we were kind of complacent."

Repeating is difficult. Since 1983 only two teams have won the Memorial Cup in successive years, both from the Western Hockey League. Since 1983 only one team has repeated as OHL champion (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 1991 and 1992).

That too, provides a smidgen of hope.

Cundari said the Spitfires have worked hard on moving into another gear. He thinks the last two weeks have allowed the team to get into the right frame of mind for the playoffs.

"We've had meetings trying to get it going before the playoffs," Cundari said. "It's not like you can turn a switch on and make it happen. The past few weekends have been pretty good for us."

The reality is Friday's game meant nothing in the standings.

The reality is the Spitfires are still big-time favourites.

No one cares much for reality in hockey. It's about what a team believes and right now, some believe the Spitfires are vulnerable.


Videos

Photos