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Knights 6 vs Rangers 4: What a Comeback!

April 23, 2012

Its hard to say whether the London Knights had the momentum going into Game 2 of their third round series with the Kitchener Rangers. Yes, they’d won a hard-fought game in overtime three days ago, but the Rangers had had plenty of time to recover from the emotional exhaustion of their previous series as well as the opening game loss. Rested and recharged and ready to face their rivals in the friendly (and loud) confines of the ‘the Aud,’ Kitchener would be gunning to tie up the series.

Specifically, the Rangers would be wanting to ‘welcome’ the Knights to their home; where they’d lost only once during the playoffs.  Their stars had appeared rusty during the 3-2 O/T loss to London, but the Knights weren’t about to let down their guard. Ranger teams never just roll over and die. In this case, however, it would be the Knights that would dig deep and show their resilience.

Still without the services of rental player Greg McKegg, London has plenty of weapons in their arsenal. Unfortunately, they still haven’t gotten all of them on track and Seth Griffith is the only Knight close to the top 10 in playoff scoring. In comparison, Tobias Reider leads the league, with Michael Catenacci and cornerstone Ryan Murphy also in the top 5.  As the Sportsnet announcers were quick to repeat, as Ryan Murphy goes, so go the Rangers.

Coach Mark Hunter stated that he felt that the Knights needed around 40 shots on net to be effective against the stingy John Gibson. In Game 1, London swarmed the Kitchener zone, got 48 shots on net but won by just one goal; in overtime. Game 2 in Kitchener was a totally different story. Out-shot in the first period, the Knights would still manage to open the scoring on an opportune pinch by their outstanding rookie defenceman Olli Maatta.  London would also feed off a massive a 5-3 penalty kill against the league leading powerplay before a deflating buzzer beater at 19:59 by Murphy would tie the game at 1 apiece.

The second period was more of the same – dominating pressure by the Rangers and some outstanding saves by Gibson on the few London opportunities. London would scratch their way ahead again, on a terrible defensive zone coverage gaffe that left Austin Watson alone with time in front of the net. A quick deke and the big man would flip in his 7th goal.  With a powerplay courtesy of Cory Genovese, it appeared to be a prime opportunity for the Knights to extend their lead. But not only did they not score, a cross-ice outlet pass was picked off by Murphy for the first of two short-handed goals by Reider in less than a minute during the same powerplay.

That could have put the Knights into a tailspin, especially when the Rangers managed another powerplay goal before the end of the second period to widen their lead to two goals.  Three straight special teams goals. Special teams and Gibson’s goaltending were killing the Knights.  Their powerplay was cold (0/18), the Rangers were scoring on the powerplay and while short-handed and even when the Knights did get opportunities, Gibson was stopping them cold.

With an entire period left to sort themselves out, the Knights started their comeback.  Determined pressure from the start of the period produced several scoring chances and Josh Anderson eventually slotted one home to bring the Knights within one.  Then the team’s regular season and playoff scoring leader, Seth Griffith, scored the tying goal on a shorthanded effort of his own on a heads-up pass from Vladdy Namestnikov.

The tying goal seemed to inject further life into the desperate Knights while stifling the now confused Rangers.  Undisciplined play could have been their downfall, but recently-crowned OHL Goaltender of the Year, Michael Houser, stood tall as they withstood two more penalty kills, including another 5-3.  Not to be outdone by his Ranger counterpart, Houser couldn’t be faulted on the shorthanded two-on-ones, but his stellar work in the aftermath of the second period gave his teammates a chance to get back into the game.

The Knights wouldn’t meet the 40 shots on goal mark their coach was looking for, but they came very close – reaching 36 by firing 22 pucks at Gibson in the third period alone.  It appeared that the teams were headed for another nail-biter of an overtime, but a stunned crowd saw Scott Harrington score the go-ahead goal on a shot from the deep slot with only 50 seconds left in the game and the ever-present Watson would salt away the extraordinary comeback with an empty net goal at 19:47. Comeback complete.

Nobody could have foreseen the swings in momentum between the second Knights goal and the outcome of the game. It would have been understandable if the Rangers had gone on to win on the strength of their special teams play. But a two-goal lead with an entire period to go is never safe, even when you have stellar stoppers like Gibson and Houser. To some extent, it would be fair to say that the Knights might have been leading on the scoreboard earlier and by far more if not for Gibson’s heroics.

Overtime in Game 1, barnstorming comeback in Game 2 – what will we see in Game 3?  Its certain that the coaches will have some words for their teams prior to the Tuesday tilt at the John Labatt Centre. The Rangers will have to put their stunning collapse out of their minds, realize that their special teams are still one of their greatest assets, ride Gibson and Murphy and find some secondary scoring; because a win at the JLC will put them back in the series. The Knights need to reduce the number of opportunities they provide the league’s best powerplay, get their own powerplay on track and get consistent pressure on the Rangers while shutting down Murphy, Reider and Catenacci. London has greater depth than Kitchener and they need to exploit this asset by having all four lines rolling.

Tuesday night at the JLC will be one game you don’t want to miss.

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