Spectators get an up close and personal look at a collision between Brandon Wheat Kings forwards Hampus Gustafsson (13) and Paul Ciarelli (25) and Sebastien Owuya of the Medicine Hat Tigers on Monday night at the MTS Centre. (PHIL HOSSACK)
WINNIPEG -- The Brandon Wheat Kings didn't put on the prettiest show for the fans at the MTS Centre on Monday night, but the numbers on the scoreboard were just what their fans wanted to see.
Shayne Wiebe and Matt MacKay each had a goal and two assists as the Wheat Kings downed the Medicine Hat Tigers 6-3 to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round Western Hockey League playoff series.
"It's a big win for our team (but) I thought we struggled just terribly," said Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon, whose team will host Game 4 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final on Thursday in Winnipeg once again with Westman Place unavailable during the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.
"I thought the first two games in Medicine Hat we played much better. I don't know if that was stage fright for some of our guys, playing in front of friends and family for the first time in a while ... Fortunately we were timely on offence, I thought (goaltender) Liam Liston played well for us and probably just as a fact we were able to play with a lead, we were able to gut it out. But we're going to be way better on Thursday and we know that."
Mark Stone and David Toews, a pair of Winnipeggers, each had a goal and an assist for the Wheat Kings, as did Brenden Walker from nearby Ste. Anne, and Swedish forward Hampus Gustafsson.
Liston, who backed up Corbin Boes in the first two games, made 32 saves in his WHL playoff debut.
"Liston played a really good game," Wiebe said. "He kept us in it with a couple big saves. Our team said never die and that's the biggest thing in the playoffs. We didn't have the strongest first two periods, but we found a way to come out with the win."
Cole Grbavac had a goal and two assists for the Tigers, who got their other goals from Jace Coyle and Alex Theriau.
Kellan Tochkin of the Tigers high-sticked Wheat Kings defenceman Brodie Melnychuk 44 seconds into the game and it cost Medicine Hat as Toews scored on the Brandon power play.
The Wheat Kings took that 1-0 lead into the second period and the Tigers twice fought back to tie it, but both times Wiebe had an answer.
Coyle scored on a power-play point shot through a screen, but Wiebe followed that with a superb set-up on Stone's goal. The Brandon captain picked up the puck behind the Medicine Hat net and fought off Tigers defenceman Thomas Carr, before dishing a one-handed pass to Stone.
Grbavac tied the game once again, and this time Wiebe responded with an outstanding one-on-one effort, going wide on Coyle before cutting across the front of the net and beating the hero from Game 2, Tigers goalie Deven Dubyk.
Walker stretched the lead to two goals on a power play in the third period, firing a shot from the right faceoff dot that beat Dubyk high to the short side.
The Tigers weren't done yet as Theriau stepped up from the point and ripped a shot past Liston that brought Medicine Hat to within one.
But MacKay restored the two-goal lead. Shortly after being stopped by Dubyk on a breakaway, he made good on the rebound of Wiebe's backhand attempt. Gustafsson wrapped up the win with an empty-netter.
Much has been made of the fact that the Wheat Kings don't have home ice for any game in the series, but Toews said the enthusiastic crowd of 5,063 was a good substitute.
"Maybe in the second game in Med Hat (a 5-2 Tigers win), we could have used that boost, having the crowd behind you," he said. "That may have been the difference tonight, having such a good crowd out tonight to support us."
ONE-TIMERS: Attendance was 5,063, the most ever for a Wheat Kings game at the MTS Centre, despite lingering in the mid 2,000s in the mid-afternoon ... Brandon RW Brenden Walker left the game in the third period after taking an unpenalized blindside hit from Medicine Hat LW Hunter Shinkaruk when he didn't have the puck ... LW Brandon scratched LW Dominick Favreau and D Spencer Galbraith ... Medicine Hat LW Kale Kessy was given a one-game suspension after a check from behind in Game 2 ... Other Medicine Hat scratches included RW Tyler Pitlick (broken ankle) and D Dylan Busenius.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 29, 2011 B1