What could have been a crushing loss for the Brandon Wheat Kings instead ended up with the Western Hockey League club's players piling on the ice in a massive celebration Saturday at Westman Place.
The Wheat Kings blew a three-goal lead in the third period before recovering to top the Regina Pats 4-3 on Richard Nejezchleb's power-play goal with three seconds left in overtime.
"It was tough to give (the Pats) the point but it's still nice to get two," said Nejezchleb, whose team moved from a three-way tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference into sole possession of the spot, one point ahead of the Pats and two ahead of the idle Prince Albert Raiders. "… I mean three seconds from the end of the overtime, it was pretty huge."
Nejezchleb added an assist to go with his team-leading 22nd goal of the season. Jens Meilleur, John Quenneville and Tyler Coulter all scored in regulation as the Wheat Kings (21-16-4-0) held a 3-0 lead after two periods.
The Pats (20-17-3-2) methodically ate away at that lead in the third, getting a goal from Patrick D'Amico to end Jordan Papirny's bid for a second straight shutout against Regina, before defenceman Colby Williams netted a pair of goals to force overtime.
"We didn't give hardly anything up in the first two periods," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "I think they had four scoring chances in the first, they had three in the second, our penalty kill had been good for us, Jordan had made saves when called upon. So it wasn't a case where some of the things that we had done earlier in the night came back to bite us, it was just a case of some poor reads on defensive zone entries that left people uncovered, and that was allowed them to get back into the game."
The Wheat Kings carried the play in overtime, then their power play, which had been dormant all night, took advantage of a controversial call in overtime when Pat Chandler Stephenson was penalized for running into Papirny on a rush with 44 seconds left.
Stymied early in the advantage, Brandon made a push in the dying seconds with captain Ryan Pulock rushing end-to-end and being forced to the outside, but getting the puck to Peter Quenneville, who managed to dribble a pass over to Nejezchleb, allowing the Czech winger to slide a shot under Regina goalie Dawson MacAuley.
"It's huge," Peter Quenneville, who had two assists, said of the victory. "It's been I think four in a row that we've lost in overtime where we haven't been able to close the deal. It's not what we want to be giving up, a third-period lead with three goals, but I think it shows us kind of maturing as a team and being able to regroup and regain our focus to be able to win in overtime."
ONE-TIMERS: Papirny made 31 saves, while MacAuley stopped 36 shots … Peter Quenneville (three goals, seven assists) and Pulock (three goals, three assists) are both on six-game point-scoring streaks … Brandon was 1-for-5 on the power play while Regina was 0-for-3, with both teams killing five-on-three chances in the first period that lasted nearly a minute each … Rookie Pats LW Rylee Zimmer of Russell earned his first WHL point with an assist on D'Amico's goal … The Wheat Kings scratched D Kord Pankewicz (healthy) as well as LW Jesse Gabrielle (Team West) and Braylon Shmyr (Team Pacific), who were both at the World Under-17 Challenge, which wrapped up on Saturday with Shmyr winning a silver medal … Pats scratches included LW Braden Christoffer (upper body), LW Max Kammerer (German team, world junior championship) and D Brady Reagan (Team Pacific) … The Wheat Kings will host the Red Deer Rebels on Tuesday.