It’s said that one of the hardest things to do in playoff hockey is to close out a series, as the Chilliwack Chiefs discovered Tuesday night.
With a chance to eliminate the Prince George Spruce Kings and move on to round two, Chilliwack stumbled to a 5-2 loss.
The final score was misleading. The Chiefs were within one heading to the final minute and dominated most of the night. But after back-to-back shaky outings, Prince George keeper Kirk Thompson was back on his game, stopping 40 of 42 shots for the win.
His Spruce Kings couldn’t have asked for a better start in this one, opening the scoring just 28 seconds in.
Captain Trevor Esau pulled the trigger with a goal oddly reminiscent of one he scored Monday night. From the point, the 20-year-old uncorked a slap shot that beat Chiefs goaltender Mitch Gillam upstairs. On PG’s first shot they led 1-0.
Chilliwack got that one back before the opening frame was done.
Their goal came on the power play, starting at the point with good play from Alex Perron-Fontaine. The blueliner did well to keep the puck in on a PG clearing attempt, walking the line and feeding a pass to Philip Zielonka.
From the high slot, the future Harvard Crimson skater wired a top-shelf shot past Thompson.
Shots on goal in the first period favoured Chilliwack 15-12.
The Spruce Kings got the only two goals of period two, the first coming just 23 seconds in. Coltyn Hansen used his best weapon, speed, to get a step on the Chiefs defence, and finished with a glove-side shot for his fourth of the series.
The second goal was rotten luck for Chilliwack when a loose puck sailed high into the air and landed at Shayne Morrissey’s feet in the slot. Before anyone else knew where it was, he punched it home, giving the Spruce Kings a two goal cushion. With Thompson back on his game, the Chiefs had a mountain to climb heading into period three.
Chilliwack applied tons of pressure to start the final frame, and one particularly good shift led to an Esau penalty for holding the stick. On the ensuing power play, Zielonka took a cross-ice feed from Ryan Donohoe and lazered the puck past Thompson to get his team within one.
The Chiefs spent the rest of the game swarming like angry bees, out-shooting the Spruce Kings 19-7.
Josh Hansen had a near miss with nine minutes to go, ringing a wrist shot off the crossbar/post. Trevor Hills and Perron-Fontaine both shot wide and/or fanned on glorious chances.
Chiefs coach Harvey Smyl pulled Gillam with 90 seconds left, only to see Coltyn Hansen and Morrissey ice the game with final minute empty netters, sending this series back to Chilliwack for game five.
Puck drop for the do-or-die is 7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) night at Prospera Centre.