Alberni Valley put the Express in the hole in the opening minute and never really looked back in a 6-4 win Saturday night.
Connor Varley scored a powerplay goal to open the scoring on a first minute powerplay to give the Bulldogs the early lead. The goal came as Matt Hutchinson sat in the penalty box after taking a penalty on his first shift for a second straight game.
In the final minutes of the period the Bulldogs added to their lead with a pair of goals. Trent Dorais came down the right wing and quickly snapped a shot through the legs of Khaleed Devji. Then just over a minute later a neutral zone turnover resulted in a 2 on 1 that Devji had little chance of stopping as Lars Hespo snapped on a perfect feed to beat the sprawled out Express netminder.
Alberni Valley outshot the Express 17-10 in the first period.
The goals kept coming in the second. Brandon Adams carried the puck all the way up ice to the Express zone and he fired a shot over the glove of Devji. Then Justin Morello cleaned up the garbage after the first two initial Bulldog shots were stopped by Devji.
The rookie Express netminder was mercifully pulled after allowing 5 goals on 21 shots with not much help.
Jared Eng looked to give his team a spark when he dropped the mitts with former Victoria Grizzlies teammate Dylan Nowakowski.
The fight appeared to have the desired effect as moments later Destry Straight showed great persistance as he picked the pocket of a Bulldogs defenceman and scored to get the Express on the board.
Alberni Valley restored their 5 goal buldge on the powerplay when Casey Bailey was set up on the high slot and blasted a feed past Billy McGladrey who had little chance.
By this point, the Express frustrations with referee Jarrett Taylor for some of the calls he did and didn't make started to really boil over. At this point Alex Petan was already ejected. Mike Krgovich quickly followed him to the showers.
The frustrations saw some uncharacteristic outbursts from Jason Grecica on a questionable offside call that went against the Express. Destry Straight laid a pretty good two handed slash on a Bulldogs player that wasn't detected. Massimo Lamacchia was frustrated as well after he was slashed in the legs and it didn't get called.
To the credit of the Express they didn't quit as they came out for the third period.
Back to back Bulldog penalties saw the Express get a 5 on 3 for over 90 seconds, and they took full advantage of it. Mark Begert scored a screened point shot. Then Jason Grecica tipped a Jared Eng point shot to cut the Bulldogs lead to 3. Then Destry Straight finished off a pretty passing play and slid home his second of the night and all of a sudden the Express were making it a game.
They had scored three goals in a span of 2:16.
That run gave the Express the belief that perhaps a comeback was in the cards. They carried the flow of play for the rest of the period. Destry Straight had a great chance to pull the Express back within one when he came out on a wraparound, but Frank Slubowski turned Straight's hat-trick bid aside with a fine glove save.
The Express rookie played this game with an edge not seen all season long. And that made him a wizard with the puck. He saw plenty of ice in the third period due to the short bench. And every time he was out there the puck appeared to be on his stick and he wasn't going to give it up until he tried to create some offence.
As it turned out the three goals in 2:16 would be all the offence the Express would be able to muster in the third period. And the Bulldogs held on the rest of the way.
The win allowed Alberni Valley to stave off an Express team that was looking to over take the Dogs and move into 6th place in the conference with a win.
The Express did get some help on the out of town scoreboard as Powell River knocked off Cowichan Valley 3-1. So the Express still hold a two point lead on the Caps for the 7th and final playoff spot with 4 games remaining.
Sunday the Express will make their final visit to Powell River. Cowichan Valley will travel to Nanaimo for a second meeting in three nights with the Clippers.