|Alex Murray dives across the open net|
making the save of the season
The Spruce Kings rolled into Chilliwack for the Chiefs home opener on Saturday night and rolled out with their fourth win of the season and sole possession of second place in the Mainland Division. It was a narrow 2-1 victory that could have easily gone the other way had it not been for the save of the season.
Early in the third period, with the game tied 1-1 and the Spruce Kings killing off a penalty taken late in the second period, the Chilliwack Chiefs intercepted a clearing attempt inside the Spruce Kings zone. Austin Plevy found the puck and then spotted Jared Babych standing all alone at the far side of the net.
Plevy feathered the puck through the top of the crease to his waiting team mate. Babych fired the one timer on net only to find a diving Alex Murray in mid flight reaching out his glove hand. The puck bounced off the inside of the glove and took flight towards the open net where Murray knocked the puck out of the air with his goal stick. With Murray sailing away from the crease and the puck bouncing loose in the blue paint, Mitch Eden came sliding through in a stacked pad fashion to kick the puck out of harm's way.
The save happened early in the third period, but provided a monumental shift in the game as the Spruce Kings rallied around that save and eventually scored the game winner mid-way through the final period. In two consecutive games, the team built on saves made by the goaltenders to complete come-back victories.
Going back to the beginning of the game, the Spruce Kings found themselves without their captain after Bryant Christian was given an automatic one game suspension for picking up a second goaltender interference call the night before. The absence of Christian was very apparent as the Spruce Kings struggled with chemistry after having to shake up most of their lines. Chad Staley came up to play centre with Jake LeBrun and Brent Lashuk.
Meanwhile Jeremiah Luedtke was left without his usual linemates and instead was on a made up line with Braiden Epp and Danny Kiraly who was moved up from the blueline to fill the vacancy. That lack of chemistry was quite evident in the second period when players seemed to be just out of reach of the loose pucks around the net.
In the first period, the well rested Chiefs tried to jump on the Spruce Kings early getting a number of key shots on goal, but it wouldn't be until the final minute of the opening period before they would get a shot that counted. The Chiefs were on a two man advantage with Mitch Eden and Skylar Pacheco in the penalty box for infractions made a minute apart. Shay Laurent, who was returned to the Chilliwack Chiefs just days earlier, kept the play alive and found Austin Plevy along the goal line. Plevy fed the puck through the crease to a wide open Joey Diamantoni on the back door. All Diamantoni had to do was direct the puck into the wide open net for the game's first goal.
In the second period the Spruce Kings were the better team and controlled much of the play in the offensive zone. While on a powerplay of their own, the Spruce Kings worked the puck down low and got a shot in on Lyndon Stanwood. Although the rebound was given up and came out into the slot for Jake LeBrun, the back official lost sight of the puck and blew the play dead as LeBrun fired the puck into the net. The goal would not stand up as the play had been blown down.
The Spruce Kings didn't give up and kept the pressure on the home team. Not long after the Spruce Kings were given another powerplay chance and Skylar Pacheco would make amends for his earlier infraction that put his team down the two players. With the puck on his stick, Pacheco came off the right point, stepped around one defender and then just hesitated before wristing a shot over the blocker hand of Stanwood.
The Spruce Kings continued to control much of the middle frame finishing with 19 shots on Stanwood, but only one goal to show for their efforts. Late in the second period Derek Bulmer was called for a trip when he was trying to play the puck behind his own net. The penalty carried over into the third period leading to the Chiefs starting that period looking for the go-ahead goal only to be denied by Murray and Eden with the save of the season.
As the game progressed the Spruce Kings would pick up the pace and would get a break. With some pressure down low the puck came to rest in the blue paint, Stanwood stretched out over the goal line and kept the initial try out of the net. As the bodies piled up around the goal, LeBrun found the puck and lifted it up over the bodies into the back of the net. The puck was loose the whole time and the whistle didn't sound until after the puck came back out of the net and was finally seen sitting in the blue paint again.
The Spruce Kings celebrated a goal, the Chiefs claimed no goal and the officials didn't make a signal either way so the BCHL timeout was called which ended up benefiting the Spruce Kings. The officials took a little over 30 seconds to discuss the play as they saw it and then pointed at centre ice indicating a good goal. As the BCHL timeout ended, the Spruce Kings were once again celebrating the goal, LeBrun's eighth of the season, and the video evidence was allowed to play for all to see on the big screen where the puck was clearly seen going into the back of the net.
The Chilliwack Chiefs would get one more chance late in the game when the Spruce Kings were called for another penalty with just over 2 minutes remaining. The Chiefs played the first half of the man advantage five on four before pulling the goaltender for the six on four situation. Neither team would get a shot on goal in those final two minutes as the Spruce Kings defenders stepped up and kept turning back the Chiefs to secure the 2-1 win.
The win gives the Spruce Kings nine points and sole possession of second place in the Mainland Division, one point back of the Surrey Eagles who defeated the Vernon Vipers. Prince George is now two points ahead of the Langley Rivermen who lost to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in a game that was delayed by over two hours due to inclimate weather delaying BC Ferry crossings. The Spruce Kings next opponents, the Coquitlam Express sat idle on Saturday night and are also two points back of the Spruce Kings.
This sets the stage for the Spruce Kings to turn a good weekend into a great one as they prepare to head back to Coquitlam for the third game in two and half days on the weekend. A win will put the Spruce Kings in top spot in the Mainland Division while a loss to the Express will see Coquitlam pull even with Prince George for second place in the Mainland Division. Sunday's game is 2pm start and will be broadcast on Fasthockey.com and also on the Spruce Kings Mixlr channel.