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OHL Championship Series Game 3 – Knights’ Tierney Gives Them Series Lead

May 7, 2012

Fresh off their series-tying win on Niagaraès home ice, the London Knights came out flying in Game 3.  There was some thought that the heavy forecheck game might not work at the big JLC, but the speed and energy of the Knights kept the IceDogs hemmed in their own zone for much of the first half of the period.  London outshot Niagara 8-1 at one point and drew a powerplay as well. Despite moving the puck around well and getting several chances, Mark Visentin held them goalless. A later shot off the crossbar was the closest the Knights would come.

Niagara fought back with their own burst, including a powerplay after Game 2 hero Ryan Rupert was tagged for charging. London’s penalty killing was back blocking shots and the teams headed to the intermission with no score and with the Knights owning an edge in shots 10-7. Of note, Mitchell Theoret left the ice holding his wrist after an Austin Watson hit.

The IceDogs took the momentum they had from the first period and began the second with pressure that would lead to coincidental penalties to Ryan Rupert and Andrew Friesen. Niagara would eventually receive another powerplay after a Vladislav Namestnikov cross-check and Brett Ritchie would open the scoring from in-close, poking it just past an outstretched Michael Houser.  The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as an opportunistic Max Domi would tie the game under a minute later.

The Ruperts would again try to generate some energy, but were stymied by a suspect penalty against Ryan Rupert, his third of the game.  The Ruperts generally play on the edge, but  apparently the referees were consciously paying attention to them, as three of the Knights’ four penalties were assessed to Ryan Rupert.  Niagara didn’t cash on that opportunity, but an unfortunate bounce over Jarred Tinordi’s stick ended up with Freddie Hamilton taking a direct line to the net and he zipped a quick wrister past a startled Houser and Niagara took the lead again.  Once again the lead was short-lived.  The Knights responded by driving the IceDogs back into their zone, drawing a couple of penalties and after several good chances (and stellar saves by Visentin), a goal by Watson tying the game again.

A scrum in Niagara’s end at the end of the second period resulted in a penalty to Luke Mercer, giving the Knights a chance to start the third on the powerplay and the opportunity to take both the lead and control the momentum.  London pressed hard, but were unable to score.  It didn’t stop the Knights from taking the play to the IceDogs, however. It seemed only a matter of time before they would be able to take a lead of their own. Just when it appeared that Visentin was about to drag his team into overtime, Chris Tierney would tip in an Olli Maatta point shot and send the JLC into a frenzy. Now all it hinged on the Knights holding off a sure-to-be-determined IceDogs club for just over three minutes.

Niagara would pull their goalie, but a Steven Shipley penalty with under two minutes evened things up again. Despite the penalty, and heavy Knights pressure, the IceDogs broke out and were able to get a point blank shot on goal with 5 seconds left, but they were stoned by Houser. Another stellar stop by their OHL Goaltender of the Year and one more face-off win by Greg McKegg resulted in a win and the series lead.  Both were keys throughout the game, along with the whole team’s ability to bounce back after each opposition goal.

The series returns to Niagara for Game 4 and the pressure is back on the IceDogs to show that they can come back from two hard losses in games which they had owned the lead.  As mentioned in the post-game interview with Coach Williamson, the IceDogs have an older team and their veterans will be relied on to get back on the ice on Wednesday and work hard to get them back to a tie in the series.  The team that most people had picked to win the series despite the regular season standings is finally facing adversity and the Knights can expect a fierce battle at the ‘Jack.’

For the second game in a row, the Knights came from behind to win in regulation time and they also carried much of the play in Game 3.  The penalty kill was a big factor as well, but the Knights have to stop playing with fire and reduce the number of chances they give the IceDogs potent powerplay. While watching Watson block shots is exhilarating, it also risks injury to one of their heart and soul guys, takes momentum away from the Knights offence and ultimately disables one of their key assets – the ability to roll all four lines.

London needs to bring the same energy to Game 4, get similar contributions and efforts from all 4 lines and the D and stay out of the penalty box.  Sounds like the game plan for any team, but if the Knights can continue to force the majority of the play and answer back when scored upon; they can come out of Niagara with a win. And that would give the IceDogs the difficult task of winning three games in a row against a team that hasn’t lost more than two in a row all season.

Game Stars: Chris Tierney (LDN), Brett Ritchie (NIA), Austin Watson (LDN)

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