The Coquitlam Express are going back to Prince George after keeping their season alive in game 4 with a 3-0 shutout win over the Prince George Spruce Kings. Clay Stevenson post his first career playoff shutout and Chase Danol scored a natural hat-trick in the winning cause. https://bchl.ca/stats/game-summary/9113
With the season hanging on the line, the Express were challenged to have their best game of the series and everyone dug in all night to earn the victory.
Coquitlam had a better start in game 4 pushing the pace early which led to their first powerplay less than two minutes into the game. On the advantage Ty Westgard had a good chance to open the scoring on a one timer that went just wide of the net.
Troy Robillard came close to opening the scoring taking a centering pass from Alex DiPaolo then swatted it at the net only to be denied by Logan Neaton.
The Express physicality and overall heaviness of their game played a role in game 4. Alex DiPaolo delivered a few crunching hit and along with a few others. That left a few Prince George defenders looking over their shoulder a little more frequently going back for pucks wondering who in an Express jersey was coming at them.
There weren't many shots on either side in the first period with the Express generating 7 and Clay Stevenson turning aside 5 Spruce Kings shots.
Prince George came out quick in the opening 90 seconds of the second period. Clay Stevenson made a key save on a Dustin Manz one timer during that flurry.
Then all of a sudden the Express ramped their game up with a number of dominant puck possession shifts in the Spruce Kings end of the ice. That sequence didn't lead to many top notch chances, but certainly had the Spruce Kings chasing the game for a while.
Chase Danol has seen his offensive production from off from the first half of the season. That is in part due to a change in role after the trade deadline. But his strength on his stick with the puck and good hands was always still apart of his game that was going to show itself again.
It did Tuesday night with the Express season on the line. Midway through the 2nd period he finally broke the ice of the scoreless game. He found himself on an odd man chance with Jared Power. Danol was very patient holding on to the puck then finally lifting a backhand over Neaton for a 1-0 Express lead.
The penalty killing had a strong night limiting the quality chances for the Spruce Kings through the night.
The Express had to shut down a pair in the second period. Then after the play returned to 5 on 5 following a Christian Sanda high-sticking call, Prince George picked up their pace, but each time they ran into a dialled in Clay Stevenson. He was making key stops with quick pads, his glove was picking off hot shots sent his way. But the best save of the night isn't credited to the goaltender.
With 15 seconds left in the 2nd period a shot by Liam Watson-Brawn found its way airborne in the crease behind Stevenson and the puck was batted away fantastically by Pito Walton to save a goal and preserve the 1-0 Express lead after 40 minutes.
The Express entered the third period with their biggest test of the season. They had games in the third period where leads slipped away in the regular season and in game 2 of this series. Tuesday night they couldn't afford another meltdown or their season was done.
This time the Express were ready. When opportunities presented themselves they took advantage. Chong Min Lee was called for high sticking three minutes into the third period for the second Express powerplay of the night.
Again it was Danol showing good patience to extend the Express lead. With a loose puck at the side of the net Danol was able to bank the puck in off a downed Logan Neaton for his second of the night and a 2-0 Express lead.
Now it was time for the Express to really lock this one down. Danol was one of many making his contributions on the in the defensive zone as well. He got himself in a shooting lane to block a shot.
Then the last line of defence in Clay Stevenson was there to support the team in front of him. He made a great reaching glove save off Ben Poisson. There was also a sequence of three quick saves in tight that Stevenson was able to hold firm.
His best save came off Ben Brar with about 6 minutes left in the third period where the Spruce Kings power forward found himself all alone in the slot with the puck on his stick and Stevenson rushed out to challenge to make a stick save. That save helped cement the 31 save performance for Stevenso's first BCHL playoff shutout.
Then in the final moments the Express heavy game helped seal the victory. Danol and Regan Kimens helped team up to work the puck deep along the boards in the Spruce Kings zone to kill some time off the clock.
In the final minute Pito Walton cleared the puck down the ice into the Spruce Kings zone and Chase Danol bumped Nick Bochen off the puck and put it into the empty net for the hat-trick.
The victory planted a seed of hope for the Express that has now started to sprout. They hope that seed grows just a little more when the series shifts to Prince George for game 5 Thursday night.
Prince George put the Express on the brink of elimination with a 5-2 win in game 3 of the Mainland division semi final to open a 3-0 series lead. Click here for boxscore
The visitors looked early on put the Express away early peppering Kolby Matthews with plenty of shots. Their reward came just shy of the 8 minute mark when the puck bounced to Chong Min Lee who tapped it home for a 1-0 Prince George lead.
Alex DiPaolo had the reply for the Express 5 minutes later burying the rebound of a Jack Cameron shot after the blue liner jumped down deep then finding a way to get the puck to the net.
That goal sparked a turn in the play which saw the Express finish strong and coming out of the period with a 14-13 advantage in shots.
Nick Poisson rushed into the Express zone then dished to his brother Ben who snapped a wrist shot just inside the post for a 2-1 Spruce Kings lead.
It was a little harder for the Express to generate scoring chances in the second after the first. But they scrapped their way to find the equalizer late in the period. Dallas Farrell found himself tangled up behind the play with Layton Ahac. The officials allowed it to continue until the players separated. Farrell then went to the net and slid home his first of the series to tie the game at 2.
The tie only lasted just 1:21 before Chong Min Lee found Ben Poisson who scored his second of the net for a 3-2 Prince George lead after 40.
One of two things was going to happen in the third period. Either the Express were going to play with a sense of desperation with the hopes of avoiding a 3-0 series hole. Or Prince George was going to lull the game down the way a proven playoff team can. It was the latter that ended up occurring.
Layton Ahac scored on one timer at 8:40 for a two goal Prince George lead that may have felt like the Express had to scale Mount Everest in order to overcome.
When the Express did get pucks to the net Logan Neaton was there to quash any hopes as he finished with 30 saves.
Liam Watson-Brawn sealed the game with an empty net goal while the Express were on a 6 on 4 powerplay in the final minute of the game.
Game 3 was a pretty cleanly played game with each team only being assessed one penalty each, both coming in the third period.
Game 4 goes Tuesday night in Coquitlam with the Express hoping to extend their season to a game 5.
Heart break and or frustration is the prevailing feeling for the Express after dropping game 2 of the Mainland division semi final 3-2 in overtime to the Prince George Spruce Kings. The Express had a pair of third period leads, but came out of the game with nothing. Click here for boxscore
The Express got the early jump on Prince George taking the early 1-0 lead on the powerplay on Josh Wildauer's 1st of the series burying the rebound of a Chase Danol shot set up by a great cross ice pass from Dallas Farrell.
Jason Fortier tapped Kolby Matthews on the shoulder to start game 2. He turned aside the 7 first period Spruce Kings shots. Ben Poisson had the best chance for Prince George that didn't register as a shot on goal on a re-direct to start a Spruce Kings powerplay.
Early in the 2nd period Regan Kimens somehow couldn't convert a tap in opportunity at the side of the Spruce Kings net.
The Express did a good job in the 2nd period limiting the amount of time they spent defending in their own zone.
Ben and Nick Poisson had two of the best chances for Spruce Kings in the middle frame. Ben rang a shot off the goal post. Then Nick was robbed on a great glove save by Kolby Matthews.
Through 40 minutes the game was far from an entertaining affair. But the only thing that mattered at this point for the Express it was effective.
The solid defensive effort carried through to the midway mark of the third period.
Finally Prince George broke through off a won face-off in the Express zone. Chong Min Lee's shot went in off the stick of Danny Pearson who tried to tip it away from the net but inadvertently tipped it past Kolby Matthews to the tie game at 1.
Josh Wildauer scored his second of the night with just over 4 minutes left in the third period converting a pass out of the corner by Regan Kimens for a 2-1 Express lead.
Then with just under 90 seconds left in the third period Ty Westgard coming back into his own zone slashed the stick out of the hands of a Spruce Kings player which resulted in a 6 on 4 advantage following a Spruce Kings time out.
It only took 9 seconds for the Spruce Kings to tie it at 2 off the won face-off in the Express zone, Ben Brar re-directed Layton Ahac's shot with 1:33 to play sending the series to overtime for the first time.
Dustin Manz had the first good scoring chance of overtime but couldn't beat the pad of Kolby Matthews.
Then a loose puck was just sitting in a open Express crease, but was thankfully cleared away before an Spruce Kings player could get a stick on it.
Christian Sanda had a good chance for the Express in overtime chopping at a loose puck in the slot, but couldn't beat Logan Neaton who finished with 27 saves.
Then we had a rare occurrence in overtime. A fight between defensemen Jordan Schulting and Liam Watson-Brawn who were both automatically ejected midway through the period.
Controversy plagues the finish of this game. Troy Robillard fired a shot that was blocked at the point by Ben Brar. They then raced after the puck into the Express zone. Robillard appeared to reach with his stick and get a piece of the puck first before Brar goes down on the play. The Express captain however was whistled for the tripping penalty leaving the visitors furious.
Prince George was patient with their opportunity in overtime with Layton Ahac and Max Coyle playing catch with the puck at the point. Then Coyle let a shot got that was tipped home by Lucas Vanroboys for the winner and a 2-0 Spruce Kings lead in the series.
The Spruce Kings powerplay finished 2 for 5 on the night while the Express went 0 for 3.
39-29 was the shots on goal for Prince George.
The Express come home for game 3 Monday night down 2 games, but they certainly played well enough to put themselves in great shape to have at least come home with a split and maybe even a 2 game lead of their own. But that's playoff hockey. A play here, and a play there can make so much of a difference.
Monday night the Express will hope that home ice for game 3 will help turn some of their fortunes of what has been a very tight series so far.