It looked like an epic comeback story awaiting its Hollywood-scripted ending.
But Max Domi, king clutch in the 2013 OHL playoffs, had other plans. The top prospect wasn’t going to allow the roof to cave in completely.
With 23 minutes between them and a second Western Conference title in as many years, the London Knights let the Plymouth Whalers chip away at a 4-0 advantage, one goal at a time.
After a late second period marker broke London goalie Anthony Stolarz’s shutout, the Whalers scored three within a six-minute span in the final frame, silencing 9,046 at Budweiser Gardens and, more importantly, sending Game 5 into overtime.
It was a nightmare scenario in Knights land. That is, until Domi ended the madness with one quick release.
The Toronto native, now tied atop the playoff scoring list with 25 points, buried a loose puck in the front of the Plymouth net to clinch not only the game (5-4), but also the series (4-1). His fourth game-winner of the post-season came only 20 seconds into extra time.
“I jumped all over it,” Domi said, recalling the short pass from linemate Chris Tierney, “went in, and got lucky.”
Knights head coach Dale Hunter didn’t panic when he addressed his team in between the end of regulation and start of overtime. The man of few words gave the on-ice captains the floor, adding just a single thought — the squad needs “only one shot” to win.
Moments later, Domi, 18, made Hunter look brilliant.
“It’s happened to us before,” said London forward Bo Horvat, who, after scoring the club’s third goal on Friday, is on a four-game goal streak. “We’ve got good character in that room. We battled through some adversity and came into the overtime ready to go.”
Meanwhile, in a post-game press conference, Whaler bench boss Mike Vellucci placed a part of the loss on himself. The quotable coach felt he made a poor personnel 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, talking about Rickard Rakell, Garrett Meurs, Ryan Hartman, Austin Levi, and Gianluca Curcuruto facing off against Domi and company. “The line I had on the ice, they scored three of our four goals tonight and were great.”
The ever-crafty Domi was, well, dominant in Game 5, collecting two goals and three assists. Tierney (three assists), and the final top liner, Alex Broadhurst (two goals, one assist), also excelled in London’s 12th win in 14 games this post-season.
Aside from a few occasions in the Western final, in which they took their foot off the gas pedal long enough to cough up leads to a very capable Plymouth squad, the Knights are rolling through the competition.
And now, the defending champs are back in the big dance, all set to face either the Barrie Colts or Belleville Bulls in the final.
Series at a glance
All one-goal games; all with solid goaltending performances
- Game 1 — London wins 2-1 (Winning goalie: Stolarz, 32 saves)
- Game 2 — Plymouth wins in OT, 4-3 (Winning goalie: Alex Nedeljkovic, 61 saves)
- Game 3 — London wins 6-4 with an empty-netter (Winning goalie: Stolarz, 38 saves)
- Game 4 — London wins 6-4 with an empty-netter (Winning goalie: Stolarz, 42 saves)
- Game 5 — London wins in OT, 5-4 (Winning goalie: Stolarz, 37 saves)
Anderson out long-term?
Power forward Josh Anderson, sidelined with a lower body injury sustained in the third period of Game 4, has been placed on the disabled list.
Anderson, who has missed only four games total since breaking into the OHL last season, is out on a week-to-week basis.
Despite being an effective enforcer in 13 playoff games, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect had just two points before going down with the injury.