LANGLEY, B.C. – The Vancouver Giants may have kept their season alive Friday night, but coach Michael Dyck says now they’re simply looking forward to their next shift.
The Giants have persevered all season, Dyck said after the squad posted a crucial 4-3 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders, extending their bid for the Western Hockey League championship.
“They’ve stuck with it, they believe in what we’re doing and they believe most importantly in each other and themselves,” he said. “And when you do that, typically good things happen for you.”
The Raiders still hold a 3-2 lead in the WHL final as the series heads back to Saskatchewan for Game 6 on Sunday.
“We would have liked to have finished it tonight. We didn’t. So we go home now,” Raiders coach Marc Habscheid said. “You don’t want to dissect too much. I think we pretty much know what didn’t happen tonight.”
Prince Albert outshot Vancouver 40-30 throughout the game, and pressed hard in the final frame but ultimately couldn’t close the gap after the Giants put up three goals in a row in the second period.
“In the first two periods we were just OK. In the third you kind of saw there, that was the real Raiders there,” Habscheid said.
Vancouver’s Brayden Watts started the scoring 7:42 into the game, taking a rebound off the pads of Raiders goalie Ian Scott and getting a quick shot up into Prince Albert’s net.
The visiting team responded with a nearly identical goal just over three minutes later.
Sean Montgomery sent a hard shot flying and Giants goalie David Tendeck made a stop with his pad. Protas collected the rebound and fired it past the Arizona Coyotes prospect the equalizer.
The Belarussian rookie is riding a seven-game point streak and now has 21 points in his first WHL playoffs.
Noah Gregor and Dante Hannoun also scored for the Raiders, and Brett Leason added a pair of assists.
Watts and Bowen Byram each had a goal and an assist for the Giants, while Davis Koch and Dylan Plouffe rounded out the scoring.
“Once you get one in, you kind of believe. Your team kind of gets rolling there and the energy on the bench is unbelievable. When one guy gets a goal, everybody on the bench gets super excited,” said Plouffe. “So that’s how it’s been all year. We get one and we start to rattle off. So it’s really nice to have.”
Scott, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, stopped 26-of-30 shots for Prince Albert.
Tendeck put up 37 saves for Vancouver and withstood 16 shots in the third period alone.
The Giants have always known the Raiders strengths, said Byram.
“They’re a big physical team. We knew that coming into this. They’re fast, they use their speed well, they’re finishing their checks,” said the defenceman, who’s poised to be an early pick at next month’s NHL draft.
“We went nose-to-nose with them tonight and proved that we can win. So we’ve just got to do that a couple more times here.”
Dyck said his pulse was “moderate” during the end of the final frame of Friday night’s game, when team seemed to be under siege.
“I can’t say it was relaxed, but lots of confidence in these guys and I guess our message moving forward was if we continue to work and play the right way, we’re going to earn the bounces,” he said.
The Giants are sure to face a tough crowd when they head to Saskatchewan this weekend, but have already proven their ability to win in Prince Albert. Vancouver took Game 1 of the series, while the Raiders captured wins in Game 2, 3 and 4.
Heading home isn’t exactly a consolation prize, Habscheid said.
“If somebody would have told me at the beginning of the year that we had two games at home to win the league title, we probably would have taken it,” he said.
The winner of the WHL final will go on to play in the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup tournament in Halifax later this month.