Vancouver Giants have pushed the Seattle Thunderbirds to the brink of elimination.
Friday night at the Langley Events Centre, in front of 4,627-strong, the G-Men defeated the T-Birds, 3-2, in Game 5.
Dallas Hines’ third-period goal stood up as the winner as the Vancouver Giants won Game 5 and are one victory away from their first Western Hockey League series victory since the 2009-10 season.
On a delayed penalty call, Bowen Byram showed his trademark patience and poise with the puck, moving around the Seattle Thunderbirds zone and while goaltender Roddy Ross made a pad save on the shot, Hines jumped on the rebound and deposited his second of the series in a 3-2 victory on Friday night at LEC.
The Giants now hold a 3-2 series advantage in the WHL Western Conference best-of-seven series, with Game 6 slated for Saturday night at Seattle’s accesso ShoWare Center.
The teams split Games 3 and 4 there earlier this week with Hines also potting the winner in Game 3.
The victory came less than 48 hours after Vancouver had a glorious opportunity to take a 3-1 series stranglehold, leading 3-0 early in the second period, only to see Seattle score four unanswered goals – three of which came in the third period.
Vancouver entered this game 22-0-0-1 when scoring first and 33-1-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined, so to see the team unable to close things out was very uncharacteristic of the squad – which boasted the Western Conference’s top record.
“That’s what we needed. We came into this game really desperate. The way we came out in the first period was the way we needed to finish the game, and that is what we did,” said Giants defenceman Dylan Plouffe who opened the scoring in Game 5 and finished with a goal and an assist.
Plouffe is tied for the WHL playoff scoring lead with teammate Davis Koch as both players have seven points and Plouffe know has four goals in five games after scoring eight in 63 regular season games.
“We needed to bear down for the win and shut it down,” he said.
Head coach Michael Dyck was not surprised his team was able to bounce back following a disappointing Game 4 defeat.
“I knew that we would, we have done it all year long,” he said.
Game 5 was a microcosm of playoff hockey and what it takes to succeed at this time of year.
“This is playoff hockey. It is all about blocking shots, taking hits to make plays, being physical, getting to hard areas,” Dyck said. “There is not much time and space out there.”
Vancouver had a great start to Game 5, finding iron on one early scoring chance (it was originally called a goal before video review corrected the call) and then opening the score for real at the 7:06 mark as defenceman Plouffe snapped a shot off the far post and in.
Less than six minutes in, Jadon Joseph doubled the lead, redirecting a shot from Milos Roman on a Vancouver power-play. It was Joseph’s fourth of the series and third with the man advantage and gave the Giants two goals on their first six shots.
But as has been a problem all series, Seattle got back into the contest courtesy of their power-play.
Eleven seconds after a Giants penalty, Matthew Wedman got the T-Birds on the board and the teams went to the first intermission with Vancouver nursing a 2-1 lead. Seattle would tie the score with yet another power-play goal – their seventh of the series – this time off the stick of Noah Philp for the only goal of the second period.
After surrendering the equalizer, the Giants did rattle off the game’s next eight shots, including some Grade A scoring chances as both Koch and Jared Dmytriw were denied on breakaways, while Koch and Owen Hardy were also stopped on glorious chances when both found themselves all alone in front of Ross.
Byram and Lukas Svejkovsky also had prime scoring chances, but were thwarted by the rookie Ross, who made 15 of his 30 saves in the second period alone.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
The Giants also had a failed 2-on-0 break all the way from centre ice when Koch and Joseph tried to get Ross moving, but the final pass from Koch skipped over Joseph’s stick.
Regardless of those failed chances, it set the stage for Hines game-winner at the 4:43 mark of the final frame. It also marked the ninth goal by a Giants blue-liner out of the 20 the team has scored this post-season.
One area the Giants need to address is their penalty kill.
Of the 15 goals Seattle has scored, seven have come from the man advantage.
Of the remaining eight, one was into an empty net meaning the T-Birds have just seven even-strength goals over 300 minutes of hockey.
“Their power play is clicking right now, they are playing with a lot of confidence. We have to do a better job of making sure the puck goes down 200 feet and if we stay out of the box, that will certainly improve our percentage,” Dyck said.
The Giants also need to limit the penalties they take as four of the five were in the offensive zone and the fifth was well-behind the play.
“We have to make sure that we are focused at the task at hand and we can’t get wrapped up in the emotions,” the coach added.
The players and coach know the fourth and final victory of any playoff series is always the most difficult. Vancouver was up 3-2 in last year’s post-season before losing Game 6 in overtime, and then dropping the deciding game.
“That’s what (coach) stressed to us, just go out there and play and that’s what we are going to do,” Plouffe said.
“This is a good team we are playing and they are never out. They have guys who know how to win and know how to win championships,” Byram added. “They have some players who have been there before so we know it will be a test.”
Should it be necessary, Game 7 of the series would be back at Langley Events Centre on Tuesday night with a 7 p.m. puck drop.
The winner of this series faces the victor in the Victoria Royals/Kamloops Blazer series currently tied at two games apiece.
Of the 20 goals scored by the Giants in the post-season, nine have come from defencemen.
Trent Miner returned to the Vancouver net and finished with 25 saves. Miner started Games 1 and 2 of the series with David Tendeck playing Games 3 and 4.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 30, 2019
VAN – 7:06 into the first the Giants went up 1-0 when Dylan Plouffe raced wide on a Seattle defender down the left-wing and roofed his fourth of the season over the glove of Roddy Ross. Owen Hardy and Dawson Holt earned the assists.
VAN – Then at 12:58 the Giants made it 2-0 on a power play when Jadon Joseph parked himself in front of the Seattle net, and deflected his fourth of the series up and over Ross. Dylan Plouffe added the second assist.
SEA – Back came the Thunderbirds at 14:14 on a power play of their own. Matthew Wedman skated in close on Trent Miner and tucked home a feed from Andrej Kukuca for his third of the series and his third in as many games.
Shots: 12-11 Seattle
SEA – 3:57 into the middle frame Seattle tied the score when Noah Philp (2) one-timed an Jarret Tyzska pass through Trent Miner from the left-wing circle. Andrej Kukuca posted his second assist of the game as well on that play.
Shots: 15-10 Vancouver
VAN – With a delayed penalty on the way to Seattle the Giants ended up securing the game-winning goal at 4:43. Owen Hardy fed Bowen Byram at the point. Byram beat the defender wide down the right-wing, cut to the front and placed a low shot on the Seattle goal. Roddy Ross made the save but the rebound came right to Dallas Hines who pinched from the left-wing point and stuffed it home for his second goal of the series. That goal would stand as the game-winner giving the Giants the 3-2 win and the 3-2 series lead.
Shots: 7-5 Vancouver
The next game in the best of seven, is Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. at the ShoWare Center in Seattle. The Giants can advance to the second round of playoffs with a victory in this game.
BY THE NUMBERS
• Final score: Vancouver Giants 3 – Seattle Thunderbirds 2
• Final shots: 33-27 Vancouver
• Trent Miner: 25/27 saves for Vancouver (2-1)
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 30, 2019
• Roddy Ross: 30/33 saves for Vancouver (2-3)
• Vancouver: 1/3 on the power play
Seattle: 2/5 on the power play
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 30, 2019
3 Stars: Trent Miner (VAN – 25 saves); Roddy Ross (SEA – 30 saves); and Owen Hardy (VAN – 2 Assists)
• With a goal and an assist on Friday, Plouffe now joins Koch at the very top of the WHL playoff scoring leaderboard with seven points. Plouffe’s four goals are tied with Joseph for the most on the team.
• Nine of the Giants 20 goals so far in the series have come via defencemen: Plouffe (4), Byram (2), Hines (2), and Kannok Leipert (1).
• Giants are 1-1 so far this series on the road at ShoWare Center.
• Both of Hines’ goals in this series have been game-winners.