Max Domi struck before the ice was even dry in overtime to send the London Knights on to the OHL final, capping a five-point night in a 5-4 Game 5 win over the Plymouth Whalers. In the Eastern final, the Barrie Colts might have lost more than their first chance to clinch, with two top-6 forwards checking out early in a loss at Belleville. On with the post-game questions:
London 5 Plymouth 4, OT (Knights win Western final 4-1) — What company does Max Domi — five points Friday — belong in after tallying five goals and 11 points in a five-game series? You mean, when was the last time a sophomore tore it up to such an extent this late into the post-season?
Think 2010. Current Carolina Hurricanes centre Jeff Skinner had nine goals and 15 points in Kitchener's seven-game win over London in the second round. In the league semi, the future Calder Trophy winner had eight goals and 13 points in the Rangers' seven-game loss to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Kitchener Rangers. Other straight-to-The-Show supernovas such as Taylor Hall with the Windsor Spitfires and Matt Duchene with the Brampton Battalion in 2009 (think of his hat trick in the clincher against the P.K. Subban-led Belleville Bulls) also lit it up as 17-year-olds playing in the later rounds.
London's overall talent level and its ability to earn and make use of power plays — 9-for-30 in the series to Plymouth's 5-for-23 with two short-handed goals against — certainly helps an offensive player put up numbers. Don't get distracted by that with Domi. He confirmed over the last three games that he has first-class first-two-steps burst, while the series winner illustrated his rare ability to go upstairs in tight spaces.
Aside from the power plays and Anthony Stolarz forcing Plymouth to burn itself out just to put anything on the scoreboard, what was another tipping point? London's back end, led in particularly by Pittsburgh Penguins prospects Scott Harrington and Olli Määttä, draft prospect Nikita Zadorov and recent New York Rangers signing Tommy Hughes, was more efficient over the run of five games than their Whalers' counterparts. It was a six- or seven-man job depending on the occasion, but Määttä had an excellent series. Plymouth, with its complement of big-bodied forwards, zeroed in finishing its checks on the 18-year-old in hope of harrying him into mistakes. was an even or plus player in every game.
That helped London either play from ahead or not give up the all-important next goal when it was tied or training. That is the effect of having soaked in a run to the Memorial Cup last spring.
“It’s a confidence," Määttä told the London Free Press. "You trust your system, you trust your players. It’s a new journey for everybody. I think the guys who were here last year know what it takes, how much a price you’re going to pay to get to the Memorial Cup. You have to pay a price on the ice every game. You have to play hard and we’ve done a good job of that."
It should also be entered into the record that for Harrington, the series only marked his sixth through 10th games since returning from an injury that caused him to miss about six weeks during the regular season. The cornerstone defenceman's peak form could still be ahead of him.
What happened to Plymouth, giving up the winner 20 seconds into OT after scoring four goals in the final 22 minutes of regulation to extend its season? The combination of a 5-2 disadvantage in power plays and the need to empty the tanks for that third-period push raised a question of what Plymouth had left for the sudden-victory stage. The Whalers had a 25-5 shot edge in the second period but could only pare the London lead to 4-1, but that evened out when they scored three times on seven third-period shots with Columbus Blue Jackets-drafted defender Gianluca Curcuruto levelling with 4:27 remaining.
In that situation, it's understandable why a coach would start the hot hands and look to score early. So the Whalers' shutdown and two-way types were watching while Domi slipped the puck behind the goal to waiting centre Chris Tierney, then went unmarked to the dirty area for a return pass that hopped, skipped and jumped over Rickard Rakell's stick before Domi roofed it.
From John Matisz:
Whaler bench boss Mike Vellucci placed part of the loss on himself. He felt he made a poor line choice to start the fourth period.
“I blame myself a little bit for the line match-up there at the end, but what are you going to do?” Vellucci said of having Rickard Rakell, Garrett Meurs, Ryan Hartman, Austin Levi, and Gianluca Curcuruto against Domi and company. “The line I had on the ice, they scored three of our four goals tonight and were great.” (Metro London)
Those are the breaks. Talk about a tough twist of fate for an overage such as Plymouth's captain, blueliner and London, Ont., native Colin MacDonald. It also meant the end of the line in the OHL for Plymouth stalwarts such as Ottawa Senators prospect Stefan Noesen, Florida Panthers prospect Vince Trocheck (held to three points in the series) and quintessential late bloomer Mitchell Heard, a Colorado Avalanche second-rounder.
What solace might a Knights hater — there are one or two — find on this night? Last season, London ground games down to dull roar while winning the OHL championship and coming within an overtime goal of lifting the Memorial Cup. The characteristic Knights game involved building a lead and sitting on it while blocking a bajillion shots. That is still part of the M.O. but Plymouth proved the forcefield could be broken. The Whalers overcame three one-goal deficits in their only win and wiped out multi-goal London leads in the subsequent three games. There will be some equally capable teams at the Memorial Cup, if not in the OHL championship.
Belleville 3 Barrie 1 (Colts lead Eastern final 3-2, Game 6 Saturday at Barrie) — How would the absence of Zach Hall affect the Colts if the playmaker is ruled out for Game 6? In the second round, Hall (17 points in 11 playoff games) went down in Game 2 and the Colts shrugged it off and completed their sweep of the Oshawa Generals. On Friday, the 81-point scorer in the regular season who has had nine points in the series left after the second period with a suspected hip injury after being checked by Bulls captain Brendan Gaunce.
That started triptych of trauma for the Colts' top guns. Hall went out, then star centre Mark Scheifele took a retaliatory penalty that led to the clinching power-play goal by Alan Quine with 6:33 left. Ninety seconds later, Anthony Camara was heave-hoed with a cross-checking major, meaning the Colts played 4-on-5 for the final five minutes.
Hall might not be out definitely, but he could also be limited if he does dress in Game 6.
@mitchlapointe15 minimal information at this point on Hall. Trainer said "he should be fine", but that could mean just about anything.
— Craig Ripley (@Craig_Ripley) April 27, 2013
Clear win for Belleville, or a case of getting the breaks? The Bulls, who got a 41-of-42 night in net from Malcolm Subban in what was his potential last home game, certainly had the bounces. Barrie had the run of play early but was not rewarded when Andreas Athanasiou dented the goalpost on a first-period breakaway. Then there was the disallowed Mitchell Theoret goal in the second, where replay officials determined the buzzer sounded before the Theoret's shot crossed the goal line after the referees, who are watching the puck and not the score clock, signalled a goal on the ice. The TV Cogeco Ontario broadcast did not offer a replay with both an inlaid scoreclock and audio, so perhaps we'll never know.
That game-of-inches stuff represented a two-goal swing. Belleville still has a long to-do list heading into Game 6; ultimately it's split the four nip-tuck nailbiters and lost the one decisive game.
"We played the game with more speed — probably with the most pace we've played at in any game in this series,” Bulls coach-GM George Burnett told the Belleville Intelligencer.
“We have to limit their chances, we've got to support Malcolm better, continue to put pressure on Barrie in their end, and manage the puck and our shift lengths."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.