The Brandon Wheat Kings threw their best effort of the series at the Edmonton Oil Kings and all they got to show for it was an even steeper mountain to climb.
The Oil Kings scored four times in the third period to turn a 1-1 game into a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night at Westman Place, giving Edmonton a chance to sweep their second-round Western Hockey League playoff series tonight.
Facing the top team in the Eastern Conference in the Oil Kings, who have been to the last two WHL finals, the Wheat Kings came into this series knowing they faced long odds. Those odds are exponentially worse now, with Brandon trailing 3-0 in the best-of-seven conference semifinal, a deficit overcome only twice in WHL history.
"Obviously they have the stranglehold on the series, but we’re not going to quit," said Wheat Kings defenceman Eric Roy, whose team hosts Game 4 tonight at 7 o’clock. "Not one single guy on this team is going to give up."
Mitch Moroz led the charge for the Oil Kings, scoring the go-ahead goal in the third period and assisting on two others, including what turned out to be Curtis Lazar’s game-winner. Riley Kieser, Ashton Sautner and Luke Bertolucci, with an empty-netter, also scored for Edmonton, which has yet to lose in the playoffs.
John Quenneville scored the Wheat Kings’ first goal of the series and set up a late Richard Nejezchleb marker.
"It’s really frustrating," said Quenneville, who finished off a Rihards Bukarts feed on the power play to tie the game 1-1 in the second period after Kieser opened the scoring in the first. "I think we had a good start to the game and that was good confidence for us. We came out of the second period firing, and penalties caught up to us (in the third period). Discipline was just not good."
Through two periods, the stars of the game were the goaltenders — Edmonton’s Tristan Jarry, who followed up back-to-back shutouts in the first two contests with a 32-save effort last night, and Brandon’s Jordan Papirny, who had a
After being turned away 54 times by Papirny in a 3-0 Game 2 victory, the Oil Kings were determined to crash the net more often on Tuesday and it resulted in Moroz’s tiebreaking goal, which came after the Brandon netminder stopped a series of point-blank shots by the Edmonton power forward.
Penalties, a problem for Brandon all series, reared their ugly head after that as three five-on-three advantages were handed out by the referees in short order, with two of them going against the Wheat Kings.
Lazar and Sautner scored on the Oil Kings’ five-on-threes, while the Wheat Kings failed to cash in on theirs. Lazar’s goal, scored when he deflected in a Moroz shot with his skate, was a backbreaker that made the score 3-1 and silenced a Brandon crowd whose volume to that point belied the meagre 3,522 attendance.
"I thought our effort tonight was a winning effort," Wheat Kings head coach Kelly McCrimmon said. "We’ve taken steps forward from Game 1 to Game 2. I thought we took a big step forward to the game here tonight. … There was lots of positives to our game tonight. We were tied in the third and then gave up the 2-1 goal. We just didn’t need to get into the penalty trouble, the five-on-three situation where we gave up the goal where we fell behind by two. That was a critical moment in the game."
A chippy game throughout threatened to get out of hand in the late going. Roy took a misconduct after Edmonton’s second five-on-three goal made it 4-1, and captain Ryan Pulock, Jayce Hawryluk and Ryan Pilon — the only player given a fighting major in a skirmish with Kieser — were other Wheat Kings sent to the locker-room early.
Moroz hopes to squeeze that fight out of them quickly tonight.
"Come out and kinda step on them and take the life out early tomorrow," he said of the Oil Kings’ plan. "They’re a young team; I think if we can get up on them early, (it will) take the wind out of their sails a little bit."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings went two hours seven minutes 34 seconds without a goal going back to the first round before Quenneville broke the goose-egg in the second period Tuesday … D Kale Clague made his WHL playoff debut, joining RW Nolan Patrick to give Brandon two 15-year-old call-ups in its lineup … The Wheat Kings scratched G Curtis Honey (finger), D Taylor Green, D Kord Pankewicz, LW Tyler Coulter, LW Brett Kitt and LW Braylon Shmyr. Prospect Logan Thompson continues to back up in Honey’s place … Edmonton remains without veteran D Blake Orban and LW Brandon Baddock … Oil Kings G Tristan Jarry has been named the Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week after posting shutouts in the first two games of the series, while Kelowna D Damon Severson was the CHL player of the week.