The Brandon Wheat Kings have never been so happy to make a bus trip to Edmonton.
The Wheat Kings saved their season on Wednesday night at Westman Place, stunning the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-2 to avoid a sweep in their second-round Western Hockey League playoff series. The Oil Kings now lead the Eastern Conference semifinal 3-1, with the best-of-seven series shifting back to Edmonton for Game 5 on Friday night (7:30, CKLQ).
Richard Nejezchleb scored twice and added an assist for Brandon, while Jens Meilleur netted the short-handed winner early in the third period.
"It’s a great feeling," said the 21-year-old Meilleur, who will graduate at the end of the Wheat Kings’ season. "It’s do-or-die and I was pretty nervous going into the game, just realizing it could be my final junior career game and to extend the season and to have a good feeling going into Edmonton is awesome."
John Quenneville had a goal and an assist, while Tim McGauley also scored for the Wheat Kings, who had only two goals in the first three games of the series.
Just as key as Brandon’s sudden outburst of offence was the continued superb play of goaltender Jordan Papirny, who made 49 saves, giving him an astounding 181 stops in the series. The rookie, who turns 18 today, said the difference from Tuesday’s 5-2 loss was that the Wheat Kings did a better job of keeping their opponents from getting repeat opportunities in close.
"There was multiple plays where (the Oil Kings) would shoot from the perimeter and there would be a rebound in the slot and the boys were great at clearing pucks for me, and that’s what it’s going to take to win," he said.
Brandon caught a break on an early Edmonton power play as Edgars Kulda stuffed the puck under Papirny and into the net, but the referee ruled that the play was dead before it crossed the goal-line.
The Wheat Kings took their first lead of the series shortly afterward as Nejezchleb converted Jayce Hawryluk’s cross-crease setup. Oil Kings defenceman Cody Corbett joined the rush for a three-on-two and tied the game, but Brandon got the lead back midway through the frame on a nice three-way passing play from Nejezchleb to Peter Quenneville, who set up McGauley for the goal.
The ice tilted in Edmonton’s favour in the second period, with Luke Bertolucci scoring on Mads Eller’s centring pass after being left alone in front to tie the score going into the final intermission for the second day in a row, but the third frame played out much differently last night.
There were some early signs of trouble for Brandon, which had to kill off the last 1:39 of a Hawryluk penalty to start the period. Edmonton got another power-play chance shortly afterward, but it was Brandon that got the major boost. Meilleur stole a puck and broke up the ice on a two-on-one, scoring on the short side on Oil Kings goalie Tristan Jarry, who made 26 saves.
"They love to find seams and I just got my stick on their ‘D’-to-‘D’ pass and I jumped on my horse and went down there two-on-one," said Meilleur, whose team was a perfect 4-for-4 in penalty killing and went 1-for-4 on the power play.
"I knew Jarry was maybe going to maybe cheat a bit because he’s been doing it all series and took a shot, and I think it might have went off Corbett’s stick and in the net, but I’ll take it."
The Wheat Kings seemed to draw energy from that and nearly five minutes later they got an insurance goal from Quenneville, who was the finisher on Ryan Pilon’s drive and dish. As time ticked away, the Oil Kings — short-handed after a late scrum — pulled Jarry to even the sides, but Nejezchleb scored into the empty net.
"Big win for our team," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "I thought our guys really played hard and deserved to win. I give our players a lot of credit. Similar situation to (Tuesday) night, tied after two periods, and everything we needed to happen in the third tonight did happen."
ONE-TIMERS:The attendance of 3,246 was a drop of 276 from Tuesday’s crowd … LW Tyler Coulter checked into the Brandon lineup for his first game of the series, with C Ryley Lindgren sitting out … The Wheat Kings also scratched G Curtis Honey (finger), D Taylor Green, D Kord Pankewicz,LW Brett Kitt and LW Braylon Shmyr … The Oil Kings made one lineup change from Game 3 as well, dressing LW Brandon Ralph and sitting C Lane Bauer.