History says if the Brandon Wheat Kings are to give the Edmonton Oil Kings a serious run in their Western Hockey League playoff series, tonight’s the night to make a move.
A Brandon win in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at Westman Place (7 p.m.) would soothe the sting of two shutout losses in Edmonton, giving the Wheat Kings a major shot of confidence going into another home game on Wednesday. However, an Edmonton victory would give the Oil Kings a vice-like 3-0 grip on the series that has only been overcome twice in WHL history.
The Oil Kings won the first two games by a combined score of 8-0, outshooting the Wheat Kings 102-44 and looking very much like the superior squad, which they were in the regular season, when they finished 26 points ahead of Brandon. As decisive as those results were, they don’t change the ultimate goal for the Wheat Kings of winning their games on home ice and claiming one victory on the road.
"It’s all about Game 3 now," Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "At some point if we’re successful in the series, we’re going to win a game in Edmonton, so Games 5 and 7 are those opportunities, but first and foremost we’ve got to win on home ice."
To even get another game in Edmonton the Wheat Kings will have to win at least one of these next two games in Brandon. Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal doesn’t want to give his opponents any strands of hope to reach for, and he certainly doesn’t want it to happen tonight.
"Any Game 3 of any series is very important," said Laxdal, a former Wheat King. "We took care of business at home, and now we’ve got to try and take care of business in Game 3. … We’ve gotta stick to our game plan; we don’t want to change anything. I think the biggest thing that you’re going to see as the series goes on, you’re going to see more emotions now, more intensity. We’re coming back into Brandon now, we’re coming into their turf, and they want to protect home ice."
Laxdal has been impressed by both goaltenders in the series, with Edmonton’s Tristan Jarry stopping all 44 shots he’s faced, while Brandon’s Jordan Papirny has made 94 saves, including an incredible 54 in Saturday’s 3-0 win by the Oil Kings in Game 2. He’s told his team to expect more from Brandon’s skaters tonight.
One thing the Wheat Kings may offer is a little different look after some line-tweaking for Monday’s practice. Right-wingers Peter Quenneville and Jayce Hawryluk switched spots, with Quenneville joining his brother, John, and left-winger Jesse Gabrielle. Hawryluk skated alongside centre Tim McGauley and Richard Nejezchleb. Meanwhile, Kale Clague, a 15-year-old midget call-up, moved onto a pairing with Colton Waltz, suggesting the sixth-overall pick from last year’s bantam draft could make his WHL playoff debut.
"Johnny and I, obviously being brothers, there’s a sense of comfortability, but I think Coach knows that either Jayce or I are comfortable with Timmy and Nej," said Peter Quenneville, who has been limited to only one goal in five playoff games. "So I think no matter what he wants, we’re going to go out there and give it everything we’ve got, and I think lines aren’t the issue at this point in time. I think we just need to have a great effort, and I think things will take care of themselves."
ONE-TIMERS: Both teams practised at the Sportsplex on Monday, with the Westman Place ice slated to be ready today following last week’s annual Royal Manitoba Winter Fair … The Wheat Kings had everyone at practice, except injured G Curtis Honey (finger), while all of the Oil Kings skated … Kelowna D Damon Severson is the WHL player of the week. Severson had three goals and four assists in two games as the Rockets won the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal against the Seattle Thunderbirds … Jarry is the WHL’s nominee for the Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week award.