Burnaby had a pair of home games this weekend. They hosted the Mainland division leading Powell River Kings Friday and the Trail Smoke Eaters Sunday afternoon.
Friday's affair was the 2nd meeting in a week between the Express and Kings at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre.
Powell River needed a pair of powerplay goals to come from behind to defeat the Express 3-2 that night.
Burnaby knew they could play well against the Kings. Each of the last 4 meetings between the two teams have been close games with the Express prevailing twice.
The biggest key to Burnaby's success would have to be to shut down Powell River's top ranked powerplay and win the even strength battle. Burnaby had outscored Powell River 10-6 at even strength in the last 4 meetings. And the Kings power play was 6/24 in the previous 4 head to head matchups.
Burnaby also couldn't afford to waiver from the structured defensive set up which features their 1-2-2 forecheck.
The Express for the most part were executing their game plan to a "T" to start the game. That was until they got into a little penalty trouble late in the period. Including a pair of penalties to Greg Bay giving the Kings a double minor powerplay.
The Express PK unit stepped up large killing off the double minor. Mike Chan came up with numerous key stops. Including a lateral save coming to his right to stop Chad Niddery. Chan also had to stop a few King deflections.
In total, the Express killed off all 3 first period King powerplays. The Express would be very disciplined the rest of the way taking just one more penalty the rest of the way resulting in a King powerplay.
Burnaby slowed the pace down just the way they liked in the 2nd period. The quality scoring chances against were few and far between.
The game remained scoreless until the final minute of the 2nd period. Luke Challier picked up a loose puck behind the Kings net, swung it in front of the goal and it bounced in the net to open the scoring for the Express.
Powell River knew by the time the third period rolled around, they were in another hard fought battle. The Express more than any other team in the league recently may give Powell River the most trouble.
The Kings finally broke through the Express defence as Mat Bodie gained the Express line and played it into the middle for Clay Harvey who quickly snapped a shot past Mike Chan off the post and in to even the score 6 minutes into the third period.
Now this hard fought game was up for grabs again. This game would show how the confidence in this Express team has grown. Earlier this season, Burnaby would be squeezing their sticks tightly once letting a 3rd period lead slip away. They remained composed to their game plan and continued to grind the game out.
The Express re-stored their lead with just over 5 minutes remaining in the third period. Ilya Kravtchouck flipped the puck out of the Burnaby zone and Garrick Perry picked up the puck at centre. He took the puck deep in the Kings zone and found John Digness streaking through the middle of the ice and he made no mistake one-timing the pass home past Taylor Pears.
Hear the game winning goal from Digness here.
Powell River pressed as the clock wound down, they were reluctant to pull goaltender Pears in the final minute until the play was whistled down with 26 seconds left and a faceoff in the Burnaby zone. The Kings called their time out, and sent out 6 forwards looking for the equalizer. Burnaby's defence bent but didn't break. Greg Bay intercepted a pass sent the puck up to Garrick Perry who hit the empty net with 3 seconds left to seal the win for the Express.
The win was the third for the Express in their last 5 meetings with Powell River. They won the even strength battle by a score of 2-1 and they killed off all 4 King man advantages.
What the recent meetings between the two teams tell me, is that even though the Express may not be playoff bound, they may have figured out how to shut down the explosive Kings. If i'm either Surrey or Langley who will face Powell River in a 2nd round playoff matchup, I'd take a look at how Burnaby has fared vs. the Kings to get an idea of how to shut down the Kings.
Powell River 36
Powell River 0/4
My 3 stars
3-Luke Challier (1G, Fight)
2-Garrick Perry (1G, 1A)
1-Mike Chan (35 saves, W)
Sunday afternoon the Express welcomed the Trail Smoke Eaters to the Bill Copeland Sports Centre.
This was the one and only regular season meeting between the two teams.
The table was certainly set for the Express to win consecutive games for just the third time this season. And first time since November 6th and 7th in Merritt and Prince George.
The Express were facing a Trail squad that came in 0-3 thus far on their Mainland division road trip. Trail had allowed 19 goals on the first 3 games of the trip. The Smokies were playing their 3rd game in less than 3 nights and 4th game in 5 days.
Add that to the fact that Trail had lost 4 in a row on the road overall and 10 of their last 11 away from home.
Burnaby meanwhile was coming off their big win over Powell River and had a nights rest between games.
Richie Virtanen got his first start in goal for the Express since a 5-2 loss in Langley on January 7th.
He would get off to a rough start to the game, Trail opened the scoring early on a powerplay as Travis St. Denis set up JF Boisvert who picked the top corner on Trail's opening shot of the game.
Burnaby quick fell behind 2-0 while on a powerplay, Simon Denis lost the handle of the puck at the Trail blue line and Travis St. Denis put a perfect pass on the tape of Sean Nugent converting the 2 on 1. That would spell the end of Virtanen's night before the game was 7 minutes old after he allowed 2 goals on the first 2 Trail shots. Not all of it Virtanen's fault. He wasn't getting much support in front of him.
Burnaby just didn't look sharp from the drop of the puck. Trail added to their lead in the 2nd when St. Denis found the back of the net on a powerplay as he scored on a rebound of Graeme Strukoff's point shot.
The goal for St. Denis' was his 3rd point of the hockey game. He quickly showed why is one of the bright young stars in the BCHL as he has a scholarship to Quinnipiac and he's only 16 years old.
Now that Trail had built up a 3 goal lead on the road, they were more than content to sit on their lead the rest of the way and make sure they went home with a win on the trip.
Burnaby wasn't giving them much of a battle on this afternoon. Burnaby looked like the team that should be tired as opposed to the other way around. The Express never looked sharp. Their best players weren't making much of an impact. This effort from the Express was a far contrast from the one seen 48 hours earlier when the Express knocked off the Kings.
Garrick Perry finally got the Express on the board scoring on a third period powerplay.
St. Denis added his second goal of the game and 4th point of the afternoon at 16:08 to restore Trail's 3 goal advantage. That goal opened the flood gates that saw the teams trade 3 goals in a span of 55 seconds. St. Denis' tally was followed by a marker by Reid Edmondson, CJ Legassic rounded out the scoring firing a wrist shot past Mike Chan at 17:03.
Final score: Smoke Eaters 5, Express 2
3-Garrick Perry (1G)
2-JF Boisvert (1G, 2A)
1-Travis St Denis (2G, 2A)
Personally, this result completely puzzles me. I don't know how a team that played so well 48 hours earlier shutting down the Powell River Kings, can show up the next time out and come up with such a lackluster effort.
It's the Express inability to take advantage of a tired Trail squad that was playing their 4th game in less than 5 nights and 3rd consecutive night, plus they had lost 4 straight on the road and 10 of their last 11 away from home, and that's one of the reasons why they will miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Just another opportunity to string wins together for just the third time this season that the Express let slip through their hands. You don't need to be a genius to figure out that if a team has only won consecutive games just twice all season through 49 games to figure out another reason why the Express won't be playing in the month of March.