Sunday, March 9, 2014

On the Brink of Elimination

The looks say it all as the Spruce Kings find themselves
down 3-1 in their BCHL Mainland Division Semifinal series

After back-to-back losses in Coquitlam in games three and four, the Prince George Spruce Kings now have their backs to the wall and are fighting for their playoff lives. Facing elimination is never a pleasant feeling but it usually brings the best out of a team and the Spruce Kings haven’t been able to show their best to this point in the series yet.

The Coquitlam Express, on the other hand, have found ways to control the play and score goals. In both of their wins in Coquitlam, the Express never trailed. In game three the team was able to rally around a goal that came against the flow of the play and is looking like the turning point of the series. The goal was scored by Cody Boyd who picked up the puck in his own end, skated the length of the ice and let a weak backhand go from low in the faceoff circle that beat Alex Murray and fluttered into the back of the net.

That goal stood up as the game winner and placed momentum squarely in Coquitlam’s corner. The following night saw the Express score a total of six goals, one was into the back of the net, two went off of bodies and three of them were scored while the team was shorthanded. The first goal on the night was the result of shorthanded two-on-one rush down the ice with Boyd centering the puck for his captain. Ryan Rosenthal never touched the puck with his stick but had it deflect in off his skate instead.

The Spruce Kings got that one back when Justin Rai was sprung on his own break-away and beat Gordie Defiel on the right side above the blocker. Coquitlam had a 2-1 lead before the end of the first period as a result of a high pressure forecheck that caused the Spruce Kings all kinds of grieve well trying to clear the puck out of their own zone. The puck eventually ended up on the stick of Zack Hodder who came off the right point and was able to find the short side of the net with a perfect shot.

Things didn't get much better in the second period when the Spruce Kings found themselves on another powerplay that did result in the first powerplay goal of the series but not before the Express had their second shorthanded goal. Again it was Rosenthal that went down the ice with speed; although his first shot was stopped and he was knocked to the ice, he never gave up on the play and swung wildly at the puck while flat on the ice. The stick ended up chipping the puck up over Murray and under the crossbar to make it a 3-1 game.

Justin Rai and Jeremiah Luedtke would get that one back on a pretty two-on-one play of their own that started in the nuetral zone with Rai gaining the offensive zone with speed. As he put on the brakes and headed to the top of the slot, he passed the puck to Luedtke who fed it back to Rai. Without hesitation, Rai wound up for the big shot but that was a decoy for his slap pass back to Luedtke who just had to direct the puck into the net getting the Spruce Kings to within one.

Before the second period ended, Rai and Luedtke were back at, this time on a two-on-none. Luedtke from the right side took the intial shot that was stopped and directed into the opposite corner. Chad Staley picked it up there and spotted a wide open Rai standing at the top of the slot. Staley got the puck to the Spruce Kings player with the hot hand who faked backhand before lifting a shot over the catching glove of Defiel to tie the game with 21 seconds remaining.

Two faceoffs later the play was in the Spruce Kings end and the Express pressing for the go-ahead goal. The puck went below the goal line into the left corner where Joey Santucci found it and just fired a high centering shot that ended up going off the body of Jace Hennig and into the net with exactly one second showing on the clock. The goal stood up as the eventual game winner as the Spruce Kings would come close only in the third period.

In that final frame the Express would get yet another shorthanded tally this time from Santucci who was able to find a clearing attempt off the stick of Murray. The Spruce Kings goaltender was trying to rim the puck off the wall and out, it hit a defender's stick and landed right in front of Santucci who was able to fire a shot to the far side of the net beating Murray before he could get back between the pipes to make the save.

Both Rosenthal and Rai would have glorious opportunities for their hat trick goals in the third period, Rai would be denied when the puck hopped over his stick while trying to reel in the backdoor pass with an open net waiting for him. Rosenthal would get his third tally of the night after finding the puck in traffic at the top of the zone and went in all alone to deposit the puck into the empty net.

The Prince George Spruce Kings will get one day off and then they will be looking at extending this series and taking it to the full seven games. If it does go that far, momentum may shift back in favour of the Spruce Kings simply because of the travel schedule with the next three games being played on consecutive nights in alternating arenas.

The cliche here is that the hardest game to win is the one that will eliminate the other team. The Spruce Kings aren't banking on cliches, they know it is now up to them to pull out all the stops and get it down starting with game five in the Castle. That too favours Prince George as the Coliseum is one of the hardest buildings for the opposition to win in given it's lively boards and fans. One of the loudest supporters of their team in the BCHL, the fans in Prince George make it tough on the opposition and certainly the seventh man will come in handy on Monday night.

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