Barrett Hayton of the Soo Greyhounds scored three times and added an assist as Sault Ste. Marie defeated the London Knights 6-3 at the GFL Memorial Gardens on Friday night.
The London loss sets up a massive showdown in Saginaw, Mich., on Saturday night between the Knights and the Spirit that, if decided in regulation time, will determine the winner of the Western Conference regular season title in the Ontario Hockey League.
For the third time in four games, London poured more than 40 shots on their opponent’s net but failed to find a great deal of success.
The Knights put one puck past Matthew Villalta before he left the game with an injury after stretching to make a save in the second period. London then scored two goals on backup Ethan Taylor.
Evan Bouchard scored twice for the Knights and Liam Foudy added the other London goal short-handed. That goal tied Ryan McGregor of the Sarnia Sting for the second-most short-handed goals in the OHL this season with six. Former Sting forward and current Oshawa General Anthony Salinitri has seven on the year.
London was looking for their first win against the Greyhounds since 2015-16.
The Knights went one-for-three on the power play. The Sault was one for eight.
They head into Saturday with a one-point lead over the Spirit. Both teams have 45 victories in 2018-19.
Sault Ste. Marie scored the first two in the game. Hayton lifted a pass back to the right point from behind the London net and then tipped in the shot that came from Mac Hollowell to put the Greyhounds up 1-0. Hollowell made it 2-0 just 1:26 later as he sent a shot to the Knight net that hit a London stick and went behind Joseph Raaymakers.
Foudy scored short-handed for the Knights on a four-on-three disadvantage as he raced down the ice two-on-one with Josh Nelson. Nelson went to the net as a decoy, and Foudy ripped a wrist shot inside the post to cut the Sault Ste. Marie lead to 2-1 through 20 minutes.
The Greyhounds took advantage of a power-play opportunity at 9:42 of the second period as Jaromir Pytlik one-timed a pass across the ice into the London net to make it 3-1.
Hayton’s second of the game put Sault Ste. Marie ahead 4-1 at the 11:41 mark of the second period.
After Villalta exited the game with an injury, Bouchard wristed a shot from the middle of the blue line over the glove of Taylor to get the Knights within two goals heading into the third period.
Joe Carroll restored a three-goal Sault Ste. Marie lead early in the third period.
Bouchard closed the gap to two a second time, but Hayton completed the hat trick into an empty net to complete the scoring.
Playoff scenario for the Knights
London came into the weekend knowing that, with three points in their final two games, they would clinch first place in the Western Conference. The loss in Sault Ste. Marie now puts a major emphasis on Saturday in Saginaw. London still leads the Spirit by a point for the top spot, meaning a win in regulation allows the Knights to stay there no matter what happens between the Spirit and the Greyhounds on Sunday. Should Saginaw earn one point, a win over Sault Ste. Marie would give the Spirit first place because they would have that one additional point over London. If the Knights were to earn a point, then Saginaw would need a win or an overtime loss on Sunday in Sault Ste. Marie.
Playoff scenario for the rest of the west
Even before the weekend began, two of the four Western Conference quarterfinal matchups had been decided. When Kitchener beat Erie on Wednesday, the team locked up the fifth seed and a meeting with the Guelph Storm. Even with the powerful play the Storm has shown since the trade deadline (17-6-3), the Rangers have beaten them three of the last four times the two teams have met. Sault Ste. Marie will face Owen Sound for the third year in a row. The Greyhounds went 2-0 against Owen Sound during the regular season. Sarnia clinched the seventh seed with a shootout win over Windsor. The point the Spitfires earned, coupled with an Erie loss in Guelph, eliminated the Otters and gave Windsor eighth place. If London finishes first in the Western Conference, they will play the Spitfires. If they finish second, they will meet the Sarnia Sting for the first time since 1999.
Londoner Colton White makes NHL debut
Colton White spent his entire OHL career in Sault Ste. Marie from 2013-17. White played in 256 games for the Greyhounds and was an alternate captain during his final two years in the Sault. On March 13, the former London Jr. Knight made his National Hockey League debut at the young age of 21 against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. White ended the game plus-1 and played over 13 minutes. He earned his first NHL stat, a holding penalty, 5:30 in the first period.
Ratcliffe hits 50
Londoner Isaac Ratcliffe scored his 49th and 50th goals of the season in a 5-2 win over the Erie Otters in Guelph on March 15. It is the first time in Ratcliffe’s four-year OHL career that he has hit the 50-goal mark, and he became the fifth OHLer to do it in 2018-19. The former London Jr. Knight is expected to play in the Philadelphia Flyers organization next season.
The final game of the Knights’ regular season will be in Saginaw. The Knights and the Spirit are battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. London has won the Midwest Division crown for the first time since 2013. The Spirit have clinched the West Division title for the first time since 2011.
Coverage gets underway at 6:30 p.m. on 980 CFPL, at http://www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.