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Knights 4 vs Rangers 2: Its a Sweep!

April 25, 2012

Given the opportunity to sweep the rival Kitchener Rangers in their own barn, no one was surprised to see the London Knights come out in the first period with a lot of jump.  With their season on the line, the Rangers were eager to show their fans and the Knights their resilience, but early in the period London would have the game going their way, with a lot of pressure and an obviously nervous Ranger team missing passes and assignments.

There were a few open rushes either way, but the Knights the majority of the chances.  John Gibson would stand tall as the Knights threw a lot of rubber his way.  London would strike first, as Olli Maatta would jump into a 2-1 with Vladislav Namestnikov and bury a beauty pass for their second short-handed goal of the series.  The Knights would take a 1-0 lead into the intermission after firing 18 shots at the Kitchener net.

The second period mirrored the first where the Rangers would take some undisciplined if suspect, penalties and the Knights would finally capitalize with a Ryan Rupert goal from the high slot (this seems to be a bit of a repetition) past a screened Gibson. Another suspect penalty to Andrew Crescenzi for goalie interference as Michael Houser was clearing the puck up the ice and another powerplay goal from Griffith put the Knights up 3-0 with 3 minutes to go in the period.

Lots of pressure by the Knights, dumb and undisciplined penalties from the Rangers and little if any pressure from the home side.  Even veteran captain Michael Catenacci was having a tough time keeping his cool in what might be his last game in a Ranger uniform.   Not the sort of game Kitchener wanted to end their season on.

Pressing for their first goal left the Rangers open for a several opportunities against, but Gibson wouldn’t let the next goal by him. Ben Thomson would cut the lead to two and give the Rangers some life, but he would then take a selfish penalty and be ejected from the game. The Knights didn’t press terribly hard and the lack of finish on the long powerplay was to prove nerve-wracking. Kitchener would come to life after the big penalty kill and Cody Sol would pull them within one with only 5 minutes left in the game.

The Rangers smelled blood and came at Knights with everything they had, but the Knights would weather the storm, with Houser stopping everything that came his way. With Gibson out of the net, Seth Griffith would seal the victory with an empty net goal from inside his own blue line with just under two minutes to go in the third period. This was a two goal deficit that Kitchener just didn’t have enough time to recover from.

While you could point to the 5 straight powerplays given up by the Rangers, their seeming disinterest and lack of pressure early on were also factors in the loss. If they’d come out of the gate with the energy they displayed after the 15 minute mark of the third period, the outcome may have been different. Kitchener just couldn’t muster a consistent effort.

The Knights also went into the series with their biggest asset largely intact. Despite not having Greg McKegg at their disposal, London was able to roll 3 pairs and 4 lines against a team that had their primary pairing of Ryan Murphy and Cody Sol on for most of the game and that showed a marked reliance on Murphy and the top line of Tobias Rieder, Michael Catenacci and Radek Faksa.

That depth allowed the Knights to get the whole team involved in the game and reduce the fatigue that sets in as a tough series moves along.  Now that the final piece of the puzzle, the powerplay, appears to be rising to the occasion – the team is peaking just in time to hit the league championship series.  No matter who they come up against, that team will have to fight through the best goaltender in the league, one of the top defensive corps in the league and a group of forwards that own all the characteristics that a championship team needs.

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