Despite being badly outplayed by the Langley Rivermen in game seven of their first-round BCHL playoffs series, it is the Chilliwack Chiefs who are moving on to the second round.
The Rivermen out-shot the Chiefs 45-21 in Sunday night’s deciding game at Prospera Centre, but outstanding goaltending from Daniel Chenard and two goals from Cole Donhauser made the difference in a 3-2 win.
Chilliwack completed an epic comeback that seemed unlikely six days ago when a 5-0 loss at Langley put them in a 0-3 hole in this best-of-seven series.
“We weren’t happy after game three and knew we could do better, but we never thought we were going to lose this season,” Chenard said. “We always believed and that was a big thing. Once we got that first win the mood changed completely and we just kept rolling from there.
“We always knew we were going to make this happen.”
Chenard stopped 45 shots in game seven and was an easy choice as the first star.
Since being pulled in the first period of that 5-0 loss after giving up three goals on 10 shots, the Quebec kid has stopped 140 of 147 pucks.
He’s as locked in as he’s ever been.
“It was do or die and we all had to step up our game after game three,” the goalie said. “That went for me too. I was letting some soft ones in and I had to do better. So I focused on giving it my all on every shot, forgetting about the past and playing in the present.”
Chenard’s Chiefs opened the game seven scoring on a first period power play, with Harrison Blaisdell collecting his first of the series.
With Langley’s Stephen Sielsky in the sin bin for high sticking, Kevin Wall skated into the left faceoff circle and rifled a shot on net.
The puck hit a body in front and found Blaisdell’s stick as he stood at the right post. The Abbotsford native had a tap-in for his first of the series.
A lucky bounce gave the Chiefs a 2-0 lead 75 seconds later.
Donhauser circled behind the Langley net and put a centering pass into the goal-mouth for Skyler Brind’Amour. But the puck hit Langley defenceman Brian Scoville instead and caromed into the net.
The Chiefs were out-shot 17-7 in the first period but led 2-0.
Rivermen forward Kalen Szeto cut the Chiefs lead in half 4:14 into the middle frame and Langley dominated the period.
They nearly had the game tied in a goal-mouth scramble, but Chenard got a helping hand from defenceman Marcus Tesink, who dropped to his knees in the blue paint to block a point-blank shot from a Langley forward.
“He saved our like and I might have to buy him a dinner or something,” Chenard laughed.
The Chiefs were under siege at that point, and when Brett Rylance was sent off for tripping at 16:44 it felt like the visitors were poised to get the tying goal. Instead, it was Donhauser turning the tables with a shorthanded goal. Chilliwack defenceman Brody Gagno forced a turnover at his own blueline, and as he grabbed the puck, captain Skyler Brind’Amour spotted Donhauser slipping behind the Langley D.
“I saw a lane and Brindy made a pretty unbelievable pass,” Donhauser said. “I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do, so I went to the spot I like to shoot, low blocker, and it worked out.”
The Rivermen sliced into the lead in the third period, scoring with 9:36 to play.
Langley captain Alec Capstick held in a clearing attempt at the Chilliwack blueline and put the puck into the slot for Szeto. The 16 year old Vancouver native put a backhand pass across the slot to Trevor Ayre, whose quick shot beat Chenard.
Chenard made some huge stops as time ticked down, none bigger than his robbery on Chase Pletzke, who was left all alone in front of the net only to be thwarted by the goalie’s blocker.
Langley coach Bobby Henderson brought Fleming to the bench with 1:12 to play and seconds later Jacques Bouquot sent a rink length shot off the right post of the empty net.
Some nights that comes back to haunt you.
On this night, Brind’Amour was able to win one final draw and his team was able to kill off the final seconds in the corner to the left of Chenard.
Donhauser said his young team learned some valuable lessons from their battle with Langley that they’ll now carry into their round-two series with the Prince George Spruce Kings.
“The first few of this series, I don’t think our compete level was where it needed to be,” the New York native noted. “Especially for playoffs, it was a bit of a rude awakening for us.
“We knew we had to pick it up a level when we were down 3-0 and we showed we can.
“We’ve learned that playoffs are a lot more physical and we won’t get the (penalty) calls we get during the regular season. But we also know we’re one of the most skilled and fastest teams in the league, and we need to work through the physical stuff and play our game.”