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BELLEVILLE, ON - The London Knights are currently the kings of the proverbial castle in Canadian Junior Hockey. On Saturday night, the Belleville Bulls beat them 3-2 in an absolute war that went right down to the final buzzer.
Just days after a dreadful home ice loss to the Erie Otters on Monday, the Bulls put together an outstanding effort of teamwork and determination against the CHL's top ranked club, blocking shots and paying the price for victory.
An action packed first period saw the Bulls send nine scoring chances on a familiar face in goal for the London Knights. Tyson Teichmann made just his second start since joining the Knights back on January 5th.
The Bulls caught Teichmann wandering just 2:15 into the first period as Adam Payerl put the pressure on the Belleville product, forcing a turnover behind the London goal before he muscled the puck into the slot where Joseph Cramarossa put the finishing touches on the first goal of the evening.
The action got rough approaching the midway point of the first when Alex Carnevale screamed through the middle and nailed fellow 16 year-old forward Bo Horvat in the trolley tracks. Horvat was shaken on the play as Knights forward Josh Anderson grabbed Carnevale who was stranded on the bottom of a pile of stirred up players. Carnevale was given the gate, receiving a 5 minute head checking major and a game misconduct.
With their 8th ranked powerplay licking it's chops at the prospect of a three minute man advantage, the London attack wouldn't get their coveted opportunity as a pair of quick minors to London negated the powerplay chance.
The Bulls were competing hard in the first as they seemed to bring the spirit they showed on Friday night in Brampton back onto home ice at the Yardmen against Canada's top ranked junior club.
The cream began to rise to the top for the Knights early in the second period as their speed seemed to be getting to the Bulls. A gaff at the offensive blueline created an odd man rush for the Knights as first round selection Bo Horvat rushed in and finished the job himself with a great toe drag to get around Jake Worrad before flipping a backhander over Malcolm Subban and under the crossbar at 2:57.
49 seconds later, the Knights were back on the goal scoring trail as scrappy rookie Josh Anderson collected his 11th goal of the season and second against Belleville. A quick London transition seemed to stun the Bulls as Jared Knight blazed down the left wing before dropping the puck for Anderson who used Adam Bignell as a screen to beat Subban over the glove hand.
The Yardmen seemed a little bit quieter from that point forward in the period as London took control of the scoreboard. The Knights would outchance the Bulls 7-3 the rest of the way as Subban made some key saves to keep the score 2-1 headed into the third period.
It took the Bulls a few minutes to get the wheels turning in the third but Daniil Zharkov got the motor running just beyond five minutes into the period when he rattled a shot off the right pad of Teichmann from the top of the circles. Moments later, the Gaunce-Brassard-Zharkov line was buzzing as a great second effort recovered from a lost faceoff in the offensive zone. After Gaunce wasn't able to snap the draw back, Brassard rushed the Knights defender in the corner. Outpowering big Jarred Tinordi, Brassard dished to the slot where Zharkov was waiting to rifle a shot over the shoulder of Teichmann.
With the game tied 2-2, the Yardmen was rocking as the Bulls seemed to steal the momentum away from London. Whenever the Knights came close, Subban was on top of his game, providing big saves such as the one he made off an odd-man rush against Nashville Predators first round pick Austin Watson.
The Bulls won this game off sweat and hard work, and the winning goal was a picture of that as Luke Judson got the puck in deep before Joseph Cramarossa made a great keep-in at the blueline. Cramarossa walked down the wall into the corner before finding Judson with his stick on the ice to redirect a low shot through Teichmann's legs at 12:21.
The Knights threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Bulls the rest of the way. Shot blocking was crucial as the Bulls denied pucks from reaching Subban's net off London's rapid fire approach.
Adam Payerl had an empty net waived off as it was ruled he was offside on a pass he received up-ice from Michael Curtis. In the end however, a big shot block by Luke Judson in the dying seconds helped preserve the victory for the Bulls who get their second win in as many nights.
"I haven't seen many seasons as a coach here where we've played so well against the Western Conference," said Bulls Head Coach George Burnett after the win. The Bulls went 13-7-0-0 against Western Conference opponents this season.
"I think the guys are realizing that the writing could be on the wall if we don't start playing consistently here," added Burnett. "I think there was a little incentive to go out and beat a team like London tonight after Mississauga pulled one off against Niagara on Friday."
Burnett was pleased with his team's effort, citing determination and great second efforts contributing to the two points at the end of the night. "We adjusted our approach a little bit," said Burnett. "I thought London adapted well come the second period and took the game to us a little bit but Malcolm was great in goal and the guys found a way to get the job done when it counted."
Unfortunately, the Bulls' main competition had similar ideas on Saturday as both Mississauga and Oshawa picked up road victories to keep pace with Belleville. The Peterborough Petes were idle on Saturday as they prepare to host the Bulls at 2:00pm on Sunday afternoon in one of the biggest games of the season to date.
Jordan Subban was held out of Saturday night's game with an upper body injury he suffered in Friday's victory in Brampton. He's listed as day-to-day.
The Bulls head into Peterborough with a two point lead over the Petes with a pair of games in hand. A win on Sunday could give the Bulls some breathing room as they push for a shot in the postseason. Back above .500 at 29-28-1-0, the Bulls prepare for what's sure to be another intense contest. Bulls voice Jack Miller goes live at 1:50pm on Sunday afternoon from the Peterborough Memorial Centre on AM 800 CJBQ.