Knights strike first with win over Saskatoon

London Knights Anthony Stolarz makes the save on Michael Ferland of the Saskatoon Blades during the...

London Knights Anthony Stolarz makes the save on Michael Ferland of the Saskatoon Blades during the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Saskatoon. (Al Charest, QMI Agency)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:25 AM ET

SASKATOON - The London Knights’ power play started leaking fluid. Nikita Zadorov slapped a huge Russian-made patch on it.

The massive rookie rearguard from Moscow snuck down low to bury a third-period rebound with the man advantage to give the OHL champions a 3-2 Memorial Cup-opening win over the rusty host Saskatoon Blades before 10,203 Friday night at the Credit Union Centre.

The Knights couldn’t make the Blades pay for too many trips to the sin bin until Zadorov stepped up.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is expected to go in the first round of this summer’s NHL draft.

This first game, both teams agreed, was a massive one. After a wild OHL final against Barrie, London finally slammed the door late on another team.

The Knights earned themselves at least a tiebreaker game next Thursday.

Now, Saskatoon, who played for the first time in 51 days, have to beat high-octane Halifax and powerful Portland to stay in the tournament.

London improved to 3-0 all-time in Cup openers.

They beat Rimouski 4-3 in overtime in 2005 and shocked Saint John 5-3 last year.

Saskatoon opened the scoring eight minutes in on a nice finish by their 47-goal overager Josh Nicholls.

They only managed four goals in their four-game, first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Medicine Hat Tigers.

The 21-year-old Nicholls produced just one assist in that series.

But in the Cup opener, he scored twice.

He tied it late in the second, following up the rebound after being stuffed by London goalie Anthony Stolarz on a breakaway.

The Knights’ speed was a lot for the Blades defensive corps to handle. The OHL champs had enough chances for three or four goals, but Saskatoon goalie Andrey Makarov was sharp.

London’s power play failed them early in the game. They couldn’t capitalize on their first four chances.

After a Matthew Pufahl tripping penalty put the Blades down two men for 54 seconds in the middle frame, London used its timeout to talk over its power play looking to increase a one-goal lead.

Even with a four-forward set up, they couldn’t find the back of the net.

That big kill provided Saskatoon with a spark.

Knights forward Seth Griffith put London ahead in the first on a pretty pass from Bo Horvat after a Blades turnover in the neutral zone.

Brett Welychka, a healthy scratch in last year’s event at Shawinigan, scored the Knights’ first goal here, responding four minutes after Nicholls’ opening salvo.

The 19-year-old London went to the front of the net and banged the puck past Makorov to continue a fine personal run.

He had four goals in the seven-game OHL final.

The Knights felt like they wouldn’t have needed playoff MVP Horvat’s last-second heroics in Game 7 against Barrie if they finished their chances better.

Griffith, the Knights’ 45-goal man last year, was a main culprit and carried that hunger in this tournament.

“I had great chances in the Barrie game, but (Colts goalie Mathias) Niederberger played really well,” he said. “(Alex Broadhurst) had a great chance in front and he robbed him there, too. It’s not like we weren’t getting chances. It’s a matter of bearing down. We’re definitely capable of scoring more than three goals a game.

“As long as we’re doing that and playing well in our own end, we’ll be fine.”

It certainly doesn’t look like they’ll win any games by a comfortable margin.

The Knights turned back to Stolarz as their starter after Jake Patterson suffered with a bout of the flu on Wednesday.

The 6-foot-6 netminder from Jackson, N.J. took over the top job for the Knights after arriving in mid-season. He left a crease logjam at the University of Nebraska-Omaha that included Ed Belfour’s sonm Dayne.

The 19-year-old backstopped London to the OHL final, but took a seat after Barrie star centre Mark Scheifele recorded his second straight five-point night in Game 4 — scoring four times in the third period.

--- --- ---

Knights 3, Blades 2

London goals: Brett Welychka, Seth Griffith, Nikita Zadorov

Saskatoon goals: Josh Nicholls (2)

Next: The Halifax Mooseheads and Portland Winterhawks play Saturday, 7 p.m. (ET).

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

 


Videos

Photos