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Guelph absolutely Fabbri-ulous, opening 3-0 lead on Erie Otters: OHL post-game questions

Neate Sager
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Fabbri helped Guelph roll a seven for the 2nd night in a row (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

Scott Kosmachuk did his best Buzz Killington by scoring 18 seconds after the opening faceoff in Erie. Robby Fabbri scored a hat trick in a Game 3 rout, and the Guelph Storm are poised to sweep the Otters in an OHL Western Conference final most forecast to be a six- or seven-gamer. On with the post-game questions:

Western Conference final

Guelph 7 Erie 1 (Storm lead 3-0, Otters host Game 4 on Tuesday) — How close was Scott Walker holding his cards afterward? It is a cardinal rule never to give an adrenaline shot to a foe that seems to have hit the self-destruct button. I could have sworn that Walker twice stated that the Storm "can't win a series in three" during the presser, but it was only on the recorder once. Here it is, verbatim:

Reporter: "Coach what has your team been able to do over the last game, even the last two games to really take the Otters out of what they want to do?"

Walker: "I don't know, they're a good team and they like to skate and they like to play fast and we do as well. It's just been that the bounces have been going our way. You can't win a series in three so we'll have to be ready [Tuesday].

Reporter: "Scott, with a 7-1 game, you can't put that down to good bounces. You got 'em."

Scott: "You don't win the series if it's 7-1 ... We played solid, but I don't think it was a 7-1 game, either."

The Storm's four-line depth and its forecheck has taxed Erie, which became increasingly fragmented across the evening. That manifested itself in increasingly individual play (think Connor McDavid trying to revive the patient by launching rushes that were often squelched at the blueline), undisciplined penalties (Guelph finished 3-for-13 on the power play) and defensive breakdowns.

The 2-0 goal came after a miscommunication on how to play a puck in the crease let Ryan Horvat poke it free to an open Fabbri. On Tyler Bertuzzi's 3-1 goal early in the second, both Otters defencemen hit the deck to block a shot, creating an easy one-touch pass off the rebound.

"They have a great forecheck and they get right in on us," Otters defenceman Adam Pelech said. "As a defence corps we have to be able to get pucks up. That's something to focus on in the next game and hopefully more games after that.

"I think the most frustrating part is how hard that we're working and that it's not going our way," the New York Islanders prospect added. "Everyone's definitely giving it their all and we're not working the right way, as the scores tell. That's the frustrating part."

McDavid had the primary assist on the lone Otters goal. The last-change advantage gave Erie a chance to get the 17-year-old phenom away from Los Angeles Kings-drafted defender Zac Leslie, who marked him in the first two games. McDavid didn't fare much better with the astute Phil Baltisberger tracking his movements. Really, though, the star's older teammates should get more scrutiny.

What did Guelph's Justin Nichols (23 saves on 24 shots) do to turn the tide? In the first period, Erie's Jake Evans got a 100-foot out-of-the-penalty-box breakaway and a prime chance to tie the game. Nichols smothered the five-hole shot. The Storm got out of the frame up a goal, then held Erie to four second-period shots."

"Huge save," Walker said. "It's been that way for a long time [with Nichols]. He's been making the saves to help us get momentum or keep momentum."

Brock McGinn's shorty that opened a 5-1 spread early in the third prompted a mercy pull for 18-year-old Erie goalie Devin Williams (five goals on 27 shots). Oscar Dansk mopped up, but will have the ball cap on at the start of do-or-done Game 4.

"My approach will be Devin Williams will be our starter," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said. "I pulled him tonight not because of how he played. I certainly think that they deserved those five goals and it wasn't because of bad goaltending. I certainly didn't want him stuck in there for the whole night. I feel that Devin Williams is our best goaltender.

"We have to get back to playing the hockey that got us here," Knoblauch added. "We were the best defensive team in the Ontario Hockey League during the regular season and we did that with hard work and staying with our systems."

How deflating was the goal on the opening shift? The Erie Insurance Arena, seeing its first third-round game in a decade, went from jetway-loud to library-quiet after Kosmachuk's quick icebreaker (which gave the Winnipeg Jets prospect a series-high eight points, along with 20 in the post-season). The energy was sparked again after Erie pulled one goal back, but Guelph needed fewer than 200 seconds to score in the second.

"Tonight I think everyone was ready to play," Knoblauch said. "The starts we had the first two games were one of the best parts of our game. Then tonight we're down one 18 seconds in. It was very disheartening for our team. It's certainly a tough way to start after coming home down two games to zero."

Monday's 7-1 margin also matched the combined third-period scoreline from the first three games. Guelph seems to simply be wearing out the Otters.

"We can't think about those scores," said Pelech, one of the 11 overages and 19-year-old vets on Erie's roster. "It was a close game off the bat and we let it get away from us. We need to come to the rink tomorrow with the commitment and the belief that we can come back."

North Bay takes a 2-0 lead over Oshawa into Game 3 of the Eastern final, which resumes Tuesday.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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