DETROIT - Maybe there's something about playing outdoors before a big crowd under the lights at Comerica Park that brings out the best in a young hockey team that is starting to show signs of growing up in the tough Western Conference race.
The Plymouth Whalers battled the London Knights to a 1-1 stalemate through 65 minutes before winning in a shootout, 2-1, in front of 26,384 fans at Comerica Park - a Canadian Hockey League record for attendance.
Plymouth goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic earned the game's first star, stopping 44-of-45 London shots through 65 minutes and denying three-of-four London shooters in the shootout.
Shootout goals by Zach Lorentz and Francesco Vilardi decided the game for Plymouth, now with a modest two-game winning streak and a record of 13-20-0-4. But the Whalers didn't start celebrating until Nedeljkovic stopped Ryan Rupert in London's final attempt.
"They play a pretty good style where they trap quite a bit and we tried to match their trap for two periods," said Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci. "I don't like that hockey, but I guess we had to fight fire with fire.
"Any win is a good win - we won before the (Christmas) Break and we won after the Break. It's a good streak to have - we're a young team and it was a tough building to play in. The conditions weren't bad and our guys were nervous and excited to play. I didn't have to get them up to play here. They were ready and they prepared for it and they played a good game."
Indeed, after scoreless forty minutes - in which Nedeljkovic stopped all 26 shots he faced - Plymouth used a good fundmental play to take a 1-0 lead at 1:38 of the third period.
Vilardi won a draw in the London zone and rookie defenseman Mathieu Henderson fired a low shot from the point that appeared to change direction through traffic in front of Knights' goaltender Jake Patterson.
London used good coaching strategy to tie the game at 17:46. Already with a power play when Plymouth defenseman Mitch Jones off on a penalty, London head coach Dale Hunter called a time out at 17:12 and pulled goaltender Patterson for an extra attacker, giving London a six-on-four advantage.
0:34 later, Chris Tierney scored his 20th goal of the year with a shot from the high slot.
"The shot went off my blocker," Nedeljkovic said about Tierney's goal. "But I forgot about it and kept making saves for the guys. Then they helped me out with the second goal."
That set the stage for overtime and the shootout, won by the Whalers.
Is Plymouth learning about themselves in putting together a two-game winning streak?
"We're starting to figure out how to play, how to win and how to finish off games," Nedeljkovic said. "Especially (in) these tight games. Early in the season, we had leads in the third period and ended up giving up the lead. We can't let those games gets away. We've learned from it and (are) starting to see that."
Plymouth plays in Windsor on New Year's Eve at 2 pm at Windsor Family Credit Union Centre.