Janne Kuokkanen scored two third-period goals 31 seconds apart to give the London Knights their first lead and eventually a 4-2 win in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Through the first 45 minutes and 51 seconds, the Knights seemed to do everything except put the puck into the Erie net.
They created chances off a two-on-one, centering feeds into the slot, a shot off a goalpost, a weird bounce off the glass, power plays and more. The puck did not seem to want to go in.
During that same span of time, the Otters managed to find a way to put the puck across the goal line twice.
First, it was trade-deadline acquisition Warren Foegele, who came up with a loose puck in centre ice, crossed the London blue line and made a slick cut to the inside that got him to the Knights net, where he squeaked a backhand through the pads of Tyler Parsons that disappeared and was about to be declared frozen, before it seemed to crawl out through the blades of his skates and slip into the net for a 1-0 Erie lead.
The Otters cashed in on a late power play to make it 2-0 as Dylan Strome lifted a pass from the right side of the London end into the air and landed it on the stick of Anthony Cirelli at the goal line and Cirelli, who scored the overtime winner in the 2015 Memorial Cup final, guided it into the net.
London came out pushing the pace in the game and continued to do so throughout the first two periods. The closest calls came off a Robert Thomas and Janne Kuokkanen two-on-one, which was broken up before the Knights got a shot, a Thomas pass to Victor Mete in front and an Olli Juolevi shot that rung off the outside of the post to the right of Erie goalie Troy Timpano.
Timpano was named the first star in Game 3 and continued his run of stops, even getting a little puck luck when he needed it after a dump-in took a funny hop off the glass, hit the side of the Otters’ net and was whacked at by Adrian Carbonara. By that time, Timpano had scrambled back into the crease and made a save against the goalpost.
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Nearly six minutes ticked off the clock in the third period and then the game changed — the puck began to go into the Erie net.
Max Jones galloped after loose pucks on the left side of the Erie end and then on the right side of the Erie zone. Jones fought his way through one check, then a second, and somehow carried the puck into a minefield of legs and sticks, holding onto it long enough to spot an opening, then snapped a shot between Timpano’s pads to cut London’s deficit in half.
Less than five minutes later, the line that Knights head coach Dale Hunter put together in Game 6 of London’s first-round series against Windsor cashed in again. Robert Thomas got a puck to Mitchell Stephens and he put a pass onto the stick of Janne Kuokkanen in front — a backhand-forehand move landed the puck in the back of the net and the Budweiser Gardens’ crowd erupted as London tied the game.
Just 31 seconds after that, Olli Juolevi fed Kuokkanen in the Otters’ end again and he wristed a shot inside the post to the stick side of Timpano and the Knights led 3-2 with 8:59 to play.
Those final minutes were not easy for either side. Bodies were draped on bodies from end-to-end, but every once in a while one of those bodies would break free. Parsons was called on to make two exceptional saves — one came through a heavy screen, with Parsons lunging out his right leg to stop the puck.
Victor Mete laid out to block a shot by Alex DeBrincat in the final two minutes, then Jones battled his way to the red line and scored into the empty Erie net to seal the win for the Knights and tie the second-round series at two games apiece.
Game 5 takes place on Saturday at the Erie Insurance Arena in Pennsylvania. AM 980’s coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. If necessary. Game 6 will happen at Budweiser Gardens on Sunday at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at 519-681-0800 ext. 1, at the Knights’ Armoury or online at londonknights.com.