OHL Playoff Preview: Storm carry momentum into Western Conference final

isaac-ratcliffe

Isaac Ratcliffe of the Guelph Storm enters the zone against the London Knights. (Luke Durda/OHL Images)

After some dramatics in Round 2, the Ontario Hockey League playoffs resume tonight.

For the Guelph Storm, it means very little rest after a Game 7 win over the London Knights on Tuesday night, on the road, and after trailing going into the third period.

Need more dramatics?

The Storm trailed the series 3-0 before reeling off four straight victories.

Storm general manager and coach George Burnett called the emotions of coming from behind to beat the Knights “thrilling for our players.”

Isaac Ratcliffe (Philadelphia Flyers) and MacKenzie Entwistle (Chicago Blackhawks) each scored twice in the third period of Guelph’s Game 7 win over London to complete the comeback.

The Storm will look to put the London series behind them quickly in preparation for the Saginaw Spirit in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference final.

“We’ve got to get past our emotional win (against London) and get refocused,” Burnett said.

“They’re a high-powered team that moves the puck as well as anybody in the league, they’ve got great goaltending and no weaknesses,” Burnett said. “Be rested, be ready to go and make sure we’re focused on Saginaw and not thinking in the past.”

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The Storm, who became just the fifth team in league history to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a series, begin the OHL’s West final tonight on the road against the Saginaw Spirit, who enter the series on the heels of a six-game series win over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, a series they led 3-0 before getting a scare of their own.

Saginaw coach Chris Lazary said the series with the Greyhounds took a toll on the Spirit.

“They put us on our heels,” Lazary said after the Game 6 victory to clinch the series. “We started to question ourselves a little bit and think, ‘Are we good enough to get it done?’”

“We talked about this being a business trip and the sole purpose of this trip was to play for the team and not the individual,” Lazary added. “For two hours of your life put the team first and see what could happen.”

The Spirit head into the series with the Storm knowing the potency of the Midwest Division club, but also feeling confident.

“We want to make sure we reset our emotions and turn our focus onto Guelph,” Lazary said. “They’re deep, they’re fast, they’re skilled, they’re heavy. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but we believe that if there’s any team that’s going to give the Guelph Storm a run, we believe we’re that group.”

The series is set to open tonight in Saginaw with the winner moving on to the OHL final against the winner of the Eastern Conference final between the Ottawa 67’s and Oshawa Generals.

Ottawa enters the series on the heels of a four-game sweep of the Sudbury Wolves in Round 2.

Despite making quick work of the Wolves, the series wasn’t without some drama of its own as the 67’s needed triple overtime in Game 4 to clinch the series.

“The playoffs are about going through that kind of a grind and that kind of emotion and be to perform under that kind of pressure,” Ottawa coach Andre Tourigny said. “Our guys did a really good job to keep their composure, stay level and stay focused on what they have to do. Mentally and emotionally, they were in the right place.”

Ottawa has yet to lose a game in the playoffs after sweeps of the Wolves and the Hamilton Bulldogs in the opening round.

Tourigny says the key to keeping his club focused after eight consecutive wins to advance in the playoffs is “short-term memory.”

“What’s important for us is it’s 0-0 in this series and we have to win four games and we have to hurry up because we have to win it in seven games,” Tourigny said. “It’s going to be a really tough series. We’re playing against a team who has momentum. (The eight wins) are in the past.”

The East final between two East Division rivals has both coaches expecting a tough series.

“We have to go to the net,” Tourigny said. “Probably the MVP of the playoffs so far is Kyle Keyser, so we have to go to the net and make it tough on him. They have a lot of speed off the rush. They have a physical team, so we have to make sure we’re above them and we don’t give them any easy scoring chances. They’re a team that can generate scoring off their forecheck and off turnovers, so we have to stay away from that.”

“They’re the best team in the league for a reason,” Walters said of the 67’s. They have great players, they’re very well-coached and they’re structured in what they do.

“We have to make sure that we’re ready to go,” Walters added. “It’s a 200-foot game against them. They’re very dangerous off the rush. We have to make sure that our coverage is really good. We have to make sure that we’re not getting beat up the ice by their defencemen and we have to play heavy. We have to get some really heavy shifts in the offensive zone and get pucks and bodies in front of DiPietro.”

Oshawa enters the series having won four straight to clinch its second-round series against the Niagara IceDogs in six games.

“We really came together as a group and played for each other and it showed in Game 6,” Walters said.

Prior to upending the IceDogs in round two, the Generals beat the Peterborough Petes in five games in the opening round.

The East final is set to open tonight in Ottawa.

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