When the Windsor Spitfires were down to their last gasp, they turned to their most talented player. Not only did he step up to accept the challenge, he excelled.
Taylor Hall capped a magnificent run through the Ontario Hockey League playoffs by scoring a pair of goals and assisting on two others as the Spitfires closed their championship series with a 6-2 defeat of the Barrie Colts to sweep their best-of-seven series.
It's the second-straight title for the Spitfires, who next advance to the Memorial Cup, in Brandon, Man. Hall was tournament MVP when the Spitfires won the Memorial Cup last year. No team has repeated as Memorial Cup champions since the Ken Hitchcock-coached Kamloops Blazers in 1984-85. The NHL Network will televise this year's Memorial Cup in the U.S. and Rogers Sportsnet will televise the games in Canada.
The biggest reason the Spitfires are in line to make history is Hall, Central Scouting's No. 2 North American skater for the 2010 Entry Draft, who had 35 points in just 19 games, and his 17 goals was third. It's the second straight year he's led the OHL on playoff scoring.
And Windsor needed every goal and every point. The Spitfires fell behind the Kitchener Rangers 3-0 in the West Conference Finals before Windsor began its magical run.
"We were kind of relaxed," Hall told NHL.com of the mood going into Game 4 against the Rangers. "We knew we had a chance to do something special. We knew we had to come back. There was a pretty big mountain in front of us, but we knew we could do it for sure."
In Game 4, Hall scored the winning goal with 1:58 left in regulation in what became a season-saving 7-5 win, and then he scored the game's first goal to start the Spitfires to a 3-0 win in Game 5.
In Game 6, with the Spitfires trailing 2-0 in the first period, Hall scored the first and last goals in a six-goal rally that evened the series with a 6-4 victory.
And in the clinching Game 7, Hall assisted on the game's first goal as Windsor pulled off the comeback with a 4-1 victory.
In all, he had 7 goals and 14 points in the last eight games of the playoffs. Hall said he didn't place any extra pressure on himself, but he knew he had to do better than the goal and 2 assists he had in the first three games against Kitchener.
"I'm expected to be a producer for my team and I had to keep doing it," said Hall. "Maybe threw out the first three games of the Kitchener series … it just comes down to perseverance and determination and I think I showed I had both."
Hall continued his astounding play in the league finals, scoring the overtime winner in Game 1 against Barrie. After being held scoreless in Game 2, Hall had 3 assists, including assists on Windsor's first two goals, in a 5-2 win in Game 3.
And in Game 4 he had a pair of goals, plus an assist on fellow top prospect Cam Fowler's game-winning goal, in the 6-2 victory that earned the Spitfires their second straight Robertson Cup.
Next for the Spitfires is the Memorial Cup, the championship tournament of Canadian junior hockey. They'll open the tournament at 8 p.m. ET on May 14 against the host Brandon Wheat Kings. Two other spots will be filled by champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League.
The Calgary Hitmen could become the third team in if they beat the Tri-City Americans Wednesday to sweep their WHL final best-of-7 series. In the QMJHL final, the Moncton Wildcats lead the Saint John Sea Dogs 2-1 in their best-of-7 series, with Game 4 set for Friday.
Last year, Windsor lost its first two games but became the first team in Memorial Cup history to overcome the long odds, win the tiebreaker game and beat the Kelowna Rockets for the title. Hall said he plans on using the lessons he learned last year.
"You're never out of it until you're really out of it," he said of last year's experience. "Just that whole experience, being down and we had to win four in a row. This year we knew we have the experience and everyone's ready for it."
The Memorial Cup also gives NHL scouts one more chance to see Hall in action. After winning a silver medal at the World Junior Championship, tying for the OHL scoring title and leading his team to a second straight league championship, Hall still feels there's more to his game to show.
"Just coming into this year I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure," said Hall. "Only way I could look at it was lead my team to another championship and that would silence any critics. We repeated as OHL champion, and you have to take that into credit that I was part of that."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org