Spitfires Staring at Elimination Entering Game 4

The term “must-win” is thrown around a lot in hockey, but it’s now truly the case for the Windsor Spitfires. Following a disappointing loss in Game 3 on Tuesday night, they’re clinging to a string of hope, wondering if history can be repeated.

After two rough games in London against the top-seeded Knights, the eighth-seeded Spitfires found some answers during Game 3. They just weren’t enough.

Now, the Spitfires are one loss away from being eliminated from the OHL playoffs while the Knights try to advance to the Western Conference semifinal.

Blackhawks’ Prospect Steals Show

During the first two games, the Spitfires played a defensive style. It didn’t help as the Knights dominated offensively.

Tuesday night, Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski changed his game plan. The Spitfires focused on energy, hitting and shooting with reckless abandon.

Knights’ goaltender Jordan Kooy wasn’t giving in, though. He stood tall and his only mistake of the first period became Spitfires’ rookie Will Cuylle’s second goal of the series.

On the other end, the Spitfires went back to goaltender Colton Incze after a promising performance on Sunday in London.

Enter Adam Boqvist.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect found the net for the Knights and they were tied up at one heading into the rooms.

Adam Boqvist Blackhawks
Adam Boqvist put on a show in Game 3 for the London Knights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Just five minutes into the second, Boqvist was at it again. His second of the game gave the Knights a 2-1 lead. While the Spitfires had lost momentum, they quickly gained it back.

Tyler Angle scored shorthanded and Louka Henault got his first of the series before the period ended, giving the Spitfires a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.

Letowski returned to his defence-first systems in the third period, but they backfired.

The Knights pressed Incze and put the Spitfires on their heels. On a two-man powerplay just before the midway point of the third, Boqvist finished his hat-trick, tying it up for the Knights. Five minutes later, he got his fourth of the night, giving his club the 4-3 lead.

The Spitfires pulled Incze with two minutes to go. While they peppered Kooy, giving him plenty to sweat about, Liam Foudy and Alex Forementon both found the open net to cap off the 6-3 Knights win.

Jordan Kooy London Knights
Jordan Kooy is the early story for London this season. (Courtesy of the London Knights)

With the win, the Knights take a 3-0 stranglehold lead on the series.

Spitfires Must Hit Gas Pedal

The scenario for the Spitfires is very simple – win on Thursday or you’re done. There is nothing else.

Letowski had the defence-first system going in London to stymie the Knights’ offence but the execution was awful. The Knights created havoc, drew penalties and their well-oiled power play was in full force.

Spitfires Trevor Letowski
Windsor Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski (Dave Jewell/THW)

During Game 3, Letowski implemented a much different game plan. The Spitfires came out hitting, shooting and simply making life miserable for the Knights.

It worked for two periods, then it all just fell apart. Why? The game plan went back to defence-first. That can’t continue.

It’s clear that when the Spitfires play their run-and-gun game, they can compete with the Knights. We saw it on Tuesday. Veterans, like Dallas Stars’ prospect Curtis Douglas, all threw their weight around and put pressure on the Knights’ defence.

Windsor Spitfires Curtis Douglas
Windsor Spitfires’ veteran Curtis Douglas (39). (Dave Jewell/THW)

If the Spitfires want to head back up the 401 to fight for their playoff lives in Game 5 on Friday, the run-and-gun game must be there for a full 60-minutes in Game 4. There is no other option.

We’ve seen both Spitfires’ styles in this series. One had the players frustrated and looking for answers. The other had the fans cheering, the players celebrating and the Knights reeling.

History on Knights’ Side

No team wants to be down 3-0, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to recover from.

When was the last time an eight seed beat a top seed? It was 2004-05 when Toronto St. Michael’s Majors beat the Mississauga IceDogs in five games.

The Spitfires are also known for being involved in dramatic comebacks.

In 2017, they were up 3-1 in their first-round series against the Knights before losing Game 7 in London. In 2009, the Spitfires were down 3-0 to the Kitchener Rangers before winning four straight and the Western Conference title. Finally, in 2005, they were down 3-0 to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds before winning a dramatic double-overtime Game 7 in the Soo.

Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer was a key reason the Windsor Spitfires beat the Kitchener Rangers in the 2010 OHL playoffs. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s no easy feat, but it’s also not unheard of in the OHL.

Can the Spitfires be involved in another historic comeback? If they stick to the plan that works, they’ve got a small chance to beat the veteran-laden Knights. The summer is calling and the cottage is ready, but are the Spitfires ready to pack their bags? It’s their choice.

Game 4 is Thursday at 7:05 p.m at the WFCU Centre.