The beauty of playoff hockey is that anything can happen.
You’ll find no better example of that than Saturday night’s game between the Chilliwack Chiefs and Penticton Vees.
As chronicled in this space last week, the Chiefs came into the first round Interior conference playoff series as massive underdogs.
A 6-1 loss in game one only reinforced the notion that the Vees would make this a short series.
But something happened on the way to the slaughter.
When Trevor ‘Sudden Death’ Hills scored 8:41 into sudden death overtime, Chilliwack proved that Penticton can be beaten.
Prince George beat them in the regular season finale.
But prior to that the Vees hadn’t lost since Nov. 5, and most assumed that once the playoffs started the Vees would kick it up a notch and steamroll the Chiefs.
If there was a way for a best-of-seven series to end in two games, most folks would have been picking that result in this series.
Hills goal was like Rocky Balboa’s punch on Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, cutting him open at the end of round two.
The Vees aren’t a machine.
They can bleed.
“Our guys respect that team and know they’re a very good team,” said Chiefs coach Harvey Smyl. “We have to be at our best to get the win, and maybe the boys believe in system a bit more after Saturday night.”
Part of what made the win so special was the large group of Chiefs fans who took a bus to Penticton. Most of them were sitting behind the net where Hills scored his overtime goal.
Smyl thought their presence gave his team a lift.
“They were absolutely very noticeable,” he said. “They were decked out in our colours and they were very vocal. When you’re talking about hockey players in the 16 to 20 age range, they can definitely find motivation from that sort of thing.”
Penticton fans are sure to return the favour tonight, as they did earlier this year when they invaded Prospera Centre to see Penticton break the consecutive wins record.
Smyl hopes the home crowd is up to the challenge.
“It’s certainly nice to be home, and hopefully we have a good supportive crowd,” he said. “It might take us up a notch or two, might make us a more difficult team to face.”
Heading into game four (game three was played Monday, after Progress press deadlines), Chilliwack needs to press home ice advantage.
They’ve also got to continue doing what worked so well in the overtime win — playing smart, physical hockey whilst limiting Penticton’s offensive chances.
“Our penalty kill was really good. The commitment to defence was good, and we didn’t give up many top quality chances,” the coach commented. “Penticton didn’t seem to have the same enthusiasm that we’ve seen from them in previous games, and I’m sure some of that had to do with what we were doing.”
What Smyl doesn’t want is to see his team linger on the overtime win too long and lose focus.
“It was a good moment that made the bus ride home a bit more enjoyable,” Smyl said. “But this time of the year you’ve got to move on quickly. You can’t bask in your great moment. That’s been the approach that got us into the playoffs and that’s what we need to stick with.”
Puck drop tonight is 7 p.m.
Game five will be Thursday night, back in Penticton.
Game six would be Friday night, 7 p.m., in Chilliwack.