For the first time, the defending Memorial Cup champions will meet the Memorial Cup hosts in the first round of the playoffs.
The Knights and Spitfires open their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series on Friday night at 7:30 at Budweiser Gardens.
The series is the 4 vs 5 matchup in the West and brings together two teams who have yet to win in each other’s building this year. It is the ultimate homer series.
You have to dial all the way back to 1992 in the Western hockey league in order to find the last time the Memorial Cup champion and host faced each other very early on in the playoffs. That season Seattle played host and met 1991 champion Spokane in round two.
The Spitfires finished their schedule on Saturday with a win over the Saginaw Spirit.
London needed Sunday to determine their fate. A win in Sault Ste. Marie and an Owen Sound loss to the Guelph Storm would have allowed the Knights to leap-frog the Attack and land in the third seed, but the Greyhounds found a way to outlast a London team finishing off three games in 46 hours to close the season.
The Knights and Greyhounds actually found ways to keep things close season long and came through forty minutes tied before Sault Ste. Marie surged in the third.
The first period saw the teams share four goals. The Knights did their damage on the power play with a wrist shot from the left side that whipped inside the post on Chatham native, Joseph Raaymakers, and then a late goal by J.J. Piccinich on a 5-on-3.
Boris Katchouk and David Miller scored goals at even strength in between, putting the puck past Tyler Johnson in the London net. After facing over eighty shots in two games against the Flint Firebirds this weekend, Tyler Parsons backed up.
The Knights also played without forward Mitchell Stephens, who was blindsided by Kole Sherwood in the final minute of London’s 3-2 victory in Flint on Saturday. Stephens took the warm-up, but Billy Moskal was inserted in his place in the line-up.
London came out flying in the second period and 48 seconds after the opening face-off, they had a 4-2 lead.
Evan Bouchard wired a slap shot from the middle of the blue line just 19 seconds in and then on the very next rush into the Sault Ste. Marie zone, Owen MacDonald fed a pass through to Max Jones who was headed to the net and Jones beat Raaymakers with a low shot through the legs.
Less than four minutes later Boston Bruins’ draft pick, Zach Senyshyn tipped in a point shot to cut London’s lead to 4-3 and then the ‘Hounds got a big opportunity when Knights’ forward Sam Miletic was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a slew foot penalty on Raaymakers.
Sault Ste. Marie tied the game on the five minute power play as Katchouk scored on a rebound that bounced to the left side of the London net and the game sat tied 4-4 through 40 minutes.
The Greyhounds kept up the two-goals-per-period quota in the third and that gave them the win and a season series sweep against London. Blake Speers netted the game winner on a rebound at 4:09 and then NHL draft prospect, Morgan Frost added some insurance with just under three minutes to go in the game.
The Knights’ best chance in period three came off a Robert Thomas shot that rang off the goal post. Other than that, Sault Ste. Marie kept London completely away from their net, holding the Knights without a shot at the end of three games in two and half days.
Miletic faces a two-game suspension, however, the league will review the play.
The Greyhounds swept London in the season series between the clubs, winning in regulation, in overtime and twice in shootouts.
The London Knights will open the playoffs against the Windsor Spitfires on Friday night at Budweiser Gardens. Game two takes place on Sunday at 2 o’clock, also in London.
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