EDMONTON — Consider the bar raised for the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The top team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, the Edmonton Oil Kings crowned the Brandon Wheat Kings 5-0 in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series on Thursday night at Rexall Place.
Both teams came into the conference semifinal fresh off of first-round sweeps. The Wheat Kings, seeded seventh in the conference, dispatched the East Division-leading Regina Pats in four straight games, while the Oil Kings did the same to the Prince Albert Raiders, who needed to win a tiebreaker just to get into the post-season.
But the Oil Kings made the significance of their similar first-round performances appear moot, outshooting the visitors to the tune of 45-15.
"Guys looked a little tentative," Wheat Kings captain Ryan Pulock said. "We weren’t the same as we were last series."
Tristan Jarry had a quiet night for his first shutout of the post-season, and Brandon head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon said his team could have done more to put the onus on the Edmonton goaltender.
"We need to hit the net on our opportunities, we need to get more second chances, some of those things," said McCrimmon, whose team visits the Oil Kings again for Game 2 on Saturday afternoon (12:30, CKLQ). "We had a lot more scoring chances tonight than being shut out would reflect and those are things we’ll need to do better."
Brett Pollock and Edgars Kulda each had a goal and an assist for the Oil Kings, who also got markers from Mads Eller, Ashton Sautner and Henrik Samuelsson.
Edmonton got the jump on Brandon early, holding an 11-1 advantage in shots midway through the first period and a 2-0 lead on goals by Pollock and Eller. Kulda slipped past Wheat Kings defenceman Taylor Green in the neutral zone and found Pollock going to the net for the opening goal. Only 35 seconds later, Eller added to the lead, scoring on a rebound.
The Wheat Kings had a couple of chances to get a key goal on the power play in the first period, but were denied on both, although they almost scored on the second advantage as a replay was needed to determine the puck didn’t cross the line on a goalmouth scramble.
"We had pretty good zone time, but I guess got pretty good momentum off the second one. The goal that was reviewed, which was that far to being a goal, was a close call for us," McCrimmon said as he held his thumb and index finger about a centimetre apart. "And then we didn’t have any power plays in the second and third."
The Wheat Kings gave up plenty of power-play chances after that, allowing the Oil Kings to build their lead over the final two frames by firing three pucks behind Jordan Papirny, who made 40 saves on the night in the Brandon net. Edmonton went on the power play seven times in those two periods, getting goals from Sautner and Samuelsson.
The run to the penalty box, particularly in the third period when Brandon was short-handed five times, was exactly what the Wheat Kings didn’t need as they tried to get back in the game.
"Obviously (the Oil Kings) are a good team, but I think for us we weren’t ready to play," Pulock said. "We had a slow start, then I thought we came around. We were doing some good things, we had some chances, scramble plays where we couldn’t bury. Then in the third period our discipline was terrible. That’s where we need to be better. We’re still confident here. That’s one game; it’s a long series."
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon’s No.2 G, Curtis Honey, was scratched with an upper-body injury, so the Wheat Kings brought in 16-year-old prospect Logan Thompson to back up Papirny … Brandon also scratched D Kord Pankewicz, D Kale Clague, LW Tyler Coulter, LW Brett Kitt and LW Braylon Shmyr … RW Reid Petryk returned to Edmonton’s lineup after missing the first round of the playoffs, while D Blake Orban and LW Brandon Baddock remain out.