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Barrie Colts, London Knights each one win from advancing: OHL post-game questions

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Knights forward Josh Anderson left Game 4 on Wednesday with an injury (OHL Images)

Each series has been largely even, but both could be over in short order after London found its usual late-game lightning and the Barrie Colts broke through in overtime. On with the belated post-game questions:

London 6 Plymouth 4, ENG (Knights lead 3-1, host Game 5 Friday) — Down to their last strike, does Plymouth come back with rookie goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who got hooked after four goals on 11 Knights shots? Nedeljkovic was replaced in a Game 4 loss in the second round against Owen Sound; coach-GM Mike Vellucci stood by him and the young netminder stopped 51-of-52 shots across the next two series-wrapping wins.

“He struggled tonight, he’s a 16-year-old," Vellucci said. “That’s only the second time all year he’s had a bad game, so I wouldn’t call it that bad of a game – just deflections and that. It was a little bit of both [the change] … momentum and he didn’t have his best game. And he looked a little shooken up there."

“Ned’s been great. He deserves everything he’s gotten so far. He’s always had bounce back games, so I’m going with Ned [Friday]."

Still, there is the more seasoned Matt Mahalak on the bench. London kind of betrayed that one tenet of their game plan is the belief the young goalie can be worn down more easily than a more experiened netminder.

“We knew he was (17), he was going to be shaky and not strong in the legs yet,” centre Alex Broadhurst told the London Free Press.. “No disrespect to him, he’s unbelievable and he’s going to be a great goalie in this league. He’s a little young right now and we’ve been peppering him with shots and luckily, they’re going in.”

What was the fallout from Whalers centre Mitchell Heard's check to the head of Broadhurst in Game 4? Poor for Plymouth, a windfall for London; yes, it's that gosh-darn pre-dilly-ictable. Broadhurst reportedly showed no ill effects from being coldcocked in Game 3 and scored two goals, including the first Knights tally and the game-winner.

“Real close,” London head coach Dale Hunter said when asked how close Broadhurst was to being scratched. “You see we had [rookie Jacob] Jammes in warmup to see how he [Broadhurst] was. It’s one of those things where if he feels any effects, he can’t play.”

Plymouth's ace scorer Vince Trocheck (1G-1A) finally scored, while linemate Tom Wilson got his sixth goal of the series. The absence of Heard — an overage who might have played his final junior game if the OHL confirms a suspension — certainly affected Plymouth's capacity to sustain moment.

“We missed him a lot, more than their guy [Broadhurst] who was is supposedly hurt,’’ Vellucci said. “He played, so … yeah, we missed him (Mitchell Heard) quite a bit."

What basis is there to believe Plymouth could win three games in a row? The series is taking on the pattern of the 2009 Western final, with London in the role of the Taylor Hall-led Windsor Spitfires exuding swagger and the Whalers as the stacked veteran-laden Knights team. Every game in that series went to overtime and each team typically controlled play for long stretches, but Windsor capitalized to prevail in five games before going on to win the OHL championship and Memorial Cup.

London's power play (five goals in the past two games) is too sizzling and goalie Anthony Stolarz, who made 42 saves Wednesday, is playing near his peak. Winning twice in Plymouth, that's also a pretty big dagger to stick in someone's flank.

“It’s huge to get these two playoff wins here,” Griffith said. “They’ve got a skilled team, they battle hard every night. We put the pressure back on them and hopefully seal it at home and clinch the series.”

Plymouth is fully capable of rallying back. Very few teams erase multi-goal deficits in London, or force overtime after trailing with 90 seconds to play, yet they have done each with little to show for it.

“You can look in their eyes and they still believe,’’ Vellucci said. “The thing I told them before the game, and I looked around, and they still want to play. They want to win. They want to be here. They don’t want to be in the American [Hockey] League and the NHL. They want to win a championship and that speaks volumes for the team. You saw tonight – never gave up. It’s heart-and-soul every game. They deserve a lot of credit. They compete every night.’’

Barrie 4 Belleville 3, OT (Colts lead 3-1, Game 5 Friday at Belleville) — If Barrie advances, what might be the turning point in the series? Before the series, one reporter asked Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk about the "epic" goaltending matchup shaping up between the Colts' Mathias Niederberger and Bulls' Malcolm Subban. That came to the fore after the clubs went to overtime for the second consecutive night.

From Stephen Sweet (@stephen_sweet):

Belleville nearly won the game about a minute in, when Joseph Cramarossa carried the puck around the net and set up [Daniil] Zharkov for a one-timer on the other side.

But Niederberger went post-to-post and nabbed the puck, robbing the Bulls’ import forward.

“Bergy made a huge save for us there in overtime,” Hawerchuk said.

With that bullet dodged, Barrie applied pressure. Subban (38 saves overall) stopped about four quality chances before rookie Brendan Lemieux's put a wrister from the slot into the top corner over Subban's blocker-side shoulder.

If anyone wants to use that as a small sample over which one should be the OHL's top goaltender — and hey, the award is being presented Thursday! — well, that's their pleasure. Subban was superb in giving Belleville a chance to even get to overtime. Somehow the Boston Bruins prospect was omitted from the three stars in the arena. Granted, that might be a by-association deal, since brother Jordan Subban was booed during the game. The defenceman was not suspended for a checking-to-the-head major/game misconduct in Game 3; he and Colts left wing Andreas Athanasiou fought in the second period.

“There was a little bit of a scramble, the puck kicked out to me, I swung and shot — I didn't even know it went in," Lemieux said. "I was really tired, I could hardly breathe, but I was really happy. My line [with Erik Bradford and Michael Webster] is mostly defensive and the offence hasn't come our way in the playoffs.

"This time, we got a bounce and put it in."

What reason is there to believe Belleville might mount a comeback? The Bulls probably not turned in an 'A' performance yet in the series. At some point, though, that either materializes or it does not. The killer wasn't the overtime goal. It was being unable to build off scoring the first goal in the critical road game. Belleville took the lead 5:02 in, then waned while Barrie's 19-year-olds Anthony Camara and Zach Hall did some nice setup work to produce two goals. Belleville was fighting the current the rest of the night.

“Our mistakes were too big [Wednesday],” said Bulls GM-coach George Burnett said. “It might have been our worst first period since Christmas, but I thought we got steadily better. We had some chances to capitalize in overtime, but we didn't.

"But early on, we were standing still and our execution was poor. Our game is better when we're skating and creating gaps by pushing to the net. We had limited speed through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone tonight."

The teams have been tied with three minutes left in the third period in three of the four games. It's plausible Belleville is due to win one, but Barrie has been winning the day. The Colts could also get a spiritual boost from having captain Ryan O'Connor back from a 10-game suspension when Game 5 goes Friday in the Bulls' barn.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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