A natural hat trick from Alex Formenton and a game-winner from Connor McMichael helped the London Knights edge the Firebirds 4-3 in Flint on Saturday night.
London overcame a goal on the first shot of the game and a Flint comeback, which erased a two-goal lead in the second period, to win their sixth game in ten days in five different cities.
Formenton now has 28 goals on the season. He was the only player on either team to record more than one point in the game.
The victory allowed the Knights to maintain a four-point bulge between themselves and their first round opponent, the Owen Sound Attack, for fourth place in the Western Conference. The Attack have a game in hand and will face the Soo Greyhounds at home on Sunday afternoon.
Jordan Kooy made 36 saves in goal for the Knights.
London has now won 12 of their last 15 games. They are 16-8-0-1 since the trade deadline. By comparison, the Eastern Conference leading Hamilton Bulldogs are 17-8.
How the goals were scored
The Flint Firebirds scored on the first shot of the game as Maurizio Colella drilled a low snap shot past Jordan Kooy just 29 seconds into the game. The goal was unassisted.
Alex Formenton brought the Knights back with another unassisted goal at the 15:44 mark of the first period. The Ottawa Senators’ prospect chipped the puck off the left wing boards past Firebirds captain Jalen Smereck, and then zoomed by. Formenton skated into the Flint end and ripped his 26th of the year past 16-year-old Luke Cavallin in the Flint net to send the teams to their dressing rooms tied 1-1 through 20 minutes.
Formenton scored two more goals to kick off the second period and complete a natural hat trick. He flew through an opening, into the Flint end and wristed a shot stick side on Cavallin to make it 2-1. Then Formenton converted on a London power play to extend the Knights lead to 3-1.
Flint might be out of chances for a playoff spot, but they made sure they weren’t out of the game, as Marcus Gretz found Ty Dellandrea in front and he slid the puck across the goal line to get the Firebirds within a goal at 15:50 of the second period.
Then with just 58 seconds to go in the period, Hunter Holmes lifted a puck over Jordan Kooy and into the London net on a Firebirds power play and once again the teams went to their dressing rooms tied.
Different players have been stepping up for the Knights at key times during their six-game winning streak, and on Saturday in Flint it was Connor McMichael. He took a pass from Sergey Popov, set up behind the Firebirds’ net and then just banked a puck off a leg and in for what would wind up as the game-winning goal for London.
First round matchup is set
The Knights will meet the Owen Sound Attack in the first round of the 2018 OHL playoffs. That became official when Owen Sound blanked the Saginaw Spirit 5-0 on Saturday. The teams last met in a playoff series in 2016 that London players on that team say helped them to become Memorial Cup Champions. Owen Sound split the first two games at Budweiser Gardens that year and then won Game 3 to lead two games to one. It took 20-plus first period saves from Tyler Parsons in Game 4 to keep the Knights in the game and give them a chance to tie the series. That win and the kind of game that Owen Sound made London play propelled them to 17 consecutive victories and a Memorial Cup championship in Red Deer, Alta. Without the test from the Attack, London might not have been as ready for what other teams threw at them over the two and a half months that followed.
The Knights won the season series in 2017-18, going 4-1-1 against the Attack.
The hits that make the differences
Formenton didn’t just score three straight goals in the game. At the end of a shift, late in the third period, with his energy drained, the King City native lunged at Connor Roberts of the Firebirds, who was carrying the puck out of the Flint zone, and caught him with a check that stopped the Flint rush. Formenton took the worst of the collision, but it killed off some valuable seconds that helped London to hang on and win the game.
The final weekend. London will play their last home game on Friday, May 16 against the Sarnia Sting at 7:30 and then head to Saginaw on St. Patrick’s Day and then to Sault Ste. Marie to end the regular season on Sunday, March 18 with an afternoon game against the Greyhounds. All games can be heard on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.