The Windsor Spitfires have clawed their way back into the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The Spitfires jumped on the complacent Kelowna Rockets for a 2-1 victory on goals from young prospect Ryan Ellis and Taylor Hall on Tuesday night to stave off elimination from the four-team tournament.
Windsor (1-2) earned a spot in a tiebreaker game on Thursday night against the loser of the final game of the round robin portion of the tournament between the Drummondville Voltigeurs and the host Rimouski Oceanic. The two 1-1 teams from Quebec face one another on Wednesday night.
If they get to the final, the Spitfires will play three games in four days.
"It's going to be tough, but that's no different from our schedule during the season," said Spitfires captain Harry Young. "It's do or die from here on out and I think that's a good thing for our team."
The Rockets (2-1) had already booked a spot in Sunday's final and it was clear that they had lost some of the edge in their play against the desperate Spitfires, who outshot them 34-17.
And they let Windsor, which went into the Memorial Cup ranked second among teams in the three Canadian major junior leagues, back into a tournament in which they have struggled to find cohesion in their play.
Coach Bob Boughner had asked for a "defensive gem" and he got it.
"We were very tight defensively, which is something we didn't do in the first two games (losses to 3-2 to Drummondvile and 5-4 to Rimouski)," said Young. "We traded chances too much, we tried to go offence against offence, and that's not our identity.
"We're known as a defensive, physical team and I think we brought that and that's why we had success."
Now the Rockets have four days off to prepare for the final. Coach Ryan Huska said the first day will be spent sight-seeing, then it will be back to work.
"It's a one-game shot for us now and we want to be ready," said Huska. "We weren't ready enough.
"We knew they would come out with urgency - they had to - and we didn't respond the way you need to put a team out of the tournament. Give credit to Windsor, but we were standing around too much."
The 4,219 mostly neutral fans at the Colisee de Rimouski saw goals from two players who should figure high in the first round of the next two NHL drafts.
Ellis, a stocky defenceman who starred for Canada at the world junior championship in Ottawa in January, is projected to be a first-rounder next month in Montreal, while Hall, who had an assist but also took two needless penalties in the offensive zone, is projected to be a top-three pick in the 2010 draft.
Both came through with goals when their team needed it.
The best chance in a scoreless first period was when Windsor's Greg Nemisz bumped big defenceman Tyler Myers off the puck and went in alone only to be stopped by Mark Guggenberger.
Kelowna struck on one of four second period power plays at 7:33 when Myers' point blast went in off Kyle St. Denis, who was planted in front of goaltender Andrew Engelage.
The Spitfires came close as Adam Henrique went around Myers to cause a scramble in front of the Kelowna goal. Moments later, Hall cut inside and rang a shot off the post while short-handed.
But the 17-year-old was at the net again to tip a rebound up and over Guggenberger to tie the game at 16:21 for his first of the tournament.
The Spitfires had pressure in the Kelowna zone for a long stretch before Ellis scored on a point shot through traffic 4:13 into the third.
Hall said the Spitfires are ready to redeem themselves after a slow start to the tournament.
"We've got to win three straight, but it's not an impossible feat for our team," he said. "We've done it many times this year. We won 18 in a row. We've just got to play hard and stay in our system and we'll be fine."
A chance to stretch the lead came with consecutive two-man advantages, but Kelowna left-winger Cody Almond blocked four straight shots and the Rockets managed to kill them off.
Notes: Austin Watson replaced Justin Shugg, who fractured a collarbone in Windosor's 5-4 loss to Drummondville on Sunday. Watson moved onto a line with Taylor Hall and Scott Timmins. . . Hall of Fame goalie and Quebec Remparts boss Patrick Roy attended the game. The Rimouski Oceanic's star alumni Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards are to attend Wednesday night's game.
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