A single win against the Edmonton Oil Kings isn’t enough for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
As major underdogs against Edmonton in the Eastern Conference semifinal, the Wheat Kings have one-upped a much more experienced Brandon squad from two years ago that was swept aside by the Oil Kings in the same round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Having avoided a similar fate by winning 5-2 in Game 4 on Wednesday night at Westman Place, this season would be considered a success for most Brandon followers even if the Wheat Kings were to drop Game 5 tonight (7:30, CKLQ pre-game show) in Edmonton, serving as a suitable bridge between last year’s last-place team and the brighter future expected of a dynamic young core.
But the thing is, rather than satisfy the current crop of Wheat Kings, Wednesday’s success has only whet their appetite.
"It’s a big momentum swing for our team," said second-year Wheat Kings forward Jayce Hawryluk, who has five goals and seven assists in eight post-season games. "All the guys are excited right now. We don’t like these guys, we want to beat them; it’s as simple as that. They’re a good team, but we don’t want to lose to them."
Both teams swept their way through the first round of the playoffs. The Oil Kings, who topped the conference with 103 points after back-to-back appearances in the WHL final the past two seasons, dispatched the Prince Albert Raiders in four straight games.
The Wheat Kings, despite their seventh seeding, were brimming with confidence after upsetting the No.2-seed Regina Pats in the conference quarter-finals.
But the Oil Kings obliterated much of that bravado, smothering the Wheat Kings in a pair of shutouts in Edmonton to start the series, then pulling away late for a 5-2 victory in a much-closer Game 3 on Tuesday in Brandon.
Captain Ryan Pulock said Wednesday’s win went a long way to restoring the Wheat Kings’ belief that they can compete with Edmonton.
"Obviously down 3-0, it’s tough to keep confident, but I think guys did a good job of that," said Pulock, who has two goals and two assists in eight playoff games, with a team-leading plus/minus of +7. "Obviously this win here was big and it gained a lot of our confidence back. We can’t go in overconfident, but at the same time, I think it’s going to help us."
Goaltender Jordan Papirny has been Brandon’s key player in the series, stopping 181 of the 195 shots he’s faced, including 49 saves on Wednesday. The Wheat Kings, who scored three times in the third period in Game 4, appeared to feed off of every goal and the rookie from Edmonton hopes the win will do the same.
"Obviously, winning gives us a big confidence boost and that ties in to continuous wins," said Papirny, who has a 3.25 goals-against average in the playoffs and is fifth in the WHL with a .919 save percentage. "It was big for us to end (Edmonton’s) winning streak, obviously, and it’s time for us to start one."
ONE-TIMERS: Only two WHL clubs — the Spokane Chiefs in 1996 and the Kelowna Rockets in 2013 — have rallied from losing the first three games to win a playoff series, and it’s never been accomplished by the lower-seeded team … If the Wheat Kings force Game 6, it will be played at Westman Place on Monday at 7 p.m.