If the Penticton Vees thought they were going to cruise through the first round of the BCHL playoffs, they were sorely mistaken. Through four games of their opening round playoff series with the hometown Chilliwack Chiefs, the Vees find themselves in a war.
A 3-1 Chilliwack win Tuesday night at Prospera Centre has things knotted at 2-2, and the Chiefs are guaranteed another home date. And a Penticton team that has faced little to no adversity this season must figure out a way to overcome a gritty Chiefs squad that refuses to go away quietly.
Welcome to playoff hockey in the BCHL.
Special teams were the difference in the first period Tuesday night.
Chilliwack had one power play opportunity and made it count, scoring the only goal of the opening frame.
It came at 3:58, with Travis St. Denis serving two minutes for tripping. Malcolm Gould pulled the trigger on a sharp-angle shot, roofing the puck over diving defenceman Nick Buchanan and Vees goaltender Chad Katunar.
Anderson White and Alexandre Perron-Fontaine drew the assists.
The other side of the special teams battle saw Chilliwack’s penalty killers snuff out two Penticton power plays.
The Chiefs played with fire, taking a couple needless penalties. But Chilliwack players fearlessly threw themselves in front of shots, and got a couple stellar saves from Mitch Gillam to keep the Vees off the board.
Gillam’s biggest stop came seconds after a Spencer Graboski elbowing minor elapsed when he stretched post to post to rob Penticton captain Logan Johnston.
Special teams continued to be the story in period two.
The Chiefs came up empty on three power plays, but scored two goals seconds after penalties had elapsed.
The first came as Johnston stepped out of the box after serving a kneeing minor. Chilliwack defenceman Alex Perron-Fontaine nabbed a loose puck, darted behind the Penticton net and came out the other side with a wrap-around, stuffing the puck into the cage to put the Chiefs up by two.
The second came as Mike Reilly stepped out of the box after serving a double minor for high sticking. Gould threw the puck on net from the right corner, and Derek Huisman out-fought a pair of Penticton defenders to punch it past Katunar.
Chilliwack out-shot the Vees 18-7 in period two.
The Chiefs started the third period on the penalty kill, with 1:14 still remaining in a Ty Miller holding minor.
Vees coach Fred Harbinson employed some interesting strategy on the PP, pulling Katunar to get a six-on-four advantage. But Chilliwack held on and Katunar returned to his net the second Miller got out of the box.
Penticton crept one goal closer at the 2:18 mark of period three on a goal by Mario Lucia, who scored on a wrist shot from the Home Depot ad, about 15 feet inside the Chiefs blueline. The Vees spent the next four minutes blitzing the Chilliwack net, but couldn’t get closer.
The Chiefs settled down, and then got some help from Johnston, who took a really bad penalty with just over four minutes left. For no particularly good reason at all, the Vees captain ran over Gillam and took two minutes for goalie interference.
Chiliwack didn’t score on the PP, but it did keep Penticton on the defensive for two minutes.
The penalty ended and the Vees pulled Katunar with 1:35 left, but the Chiefs weathered one final storm to escape with another unlikely win.
Who saw any of this coming?
The three stars were Gould (first), Gillam (second) and David Thompson (third).
Game five of this series is Thurdsay night in Penticton. Game six is back in Chillwack Friday night, with a 7 p.m. puck drop.
— A side story of Tuesday’s game was the plight of a busload of Vees fans who rolled into the rink halfway through the first period.
At Monday’s game, four Chiefs fans showed up with drums and added some really good atmosphere. They doubled their number for Tuesday’s game, sitting six rows behind the Penticton bench. When the Vees fans found their seats, their tickets put them in the five rows directly in front of the drummers.
They weren’t pleased, and odds are Pentictonites will somehow repay the favour when a busload of Chilliwack fans heads up there for Thursday night’s game.