Merritt moves on, remaining teams continue first round fight in playoffs

(ISN) –  The Prince George Spruce Kings came into their best-of-seven versus the Merritt Centennials with a surprising 33-win season and the Interior MVP Paul De Jersey. All of that was swept away Tuesday night.

The Centennials, leading the series 3-0, came ready to finish the Spruce Kings at home. Cents forward Evan Stack got them on the board with a power play goal late in the first period. And though Spruce Kings forward Larry Fitzgerald was able to tie things up with a short-handed score midway through the second, the Centennials retook the lead 30 seconds later and never let go.

“We had good goaltending, great contributions from a lot of different areas and strong team defense to frustrate their top players,” coach Luke Pierce said of his Centennials 4-0 series sweep.

Merritt focused on keeping Prince George’s playmakers from filling up the box scores. De Jersey was hounded in all four games by defenceman Reece Willcox and Brandon Pfeil, holding him to just one goal the entire series and preventing him from getting teammates involved.

“We had a line we wanted to play against him,” Pierce said. “Willcox and Pfeil did a great job and played their role to perfection.”

Pierce got solid contributions from every position on the team. Forward Evan Stack had goals in three out of four games, including the overtime score that put Prince George on the brink of elimination. Goalie Lino Chimienti also played well in net, finishing the series with a .949 save percentage and holding the Spruce Kings to one score in all but one game.

Merritt awaits the winner of the Penticton Vees, Chilliwack Chiefs series.  They could be waiting a while.

The Vees, expected to dominate the Chiefs, have been put on their heels with a 3-1 loss Tuesday night, tying the series 2-2. The Vees, by far the highest scoring team during the regular season, struggled to score versus goalie Mitch Gillam. The Peterborough, Ontario native saved 32 of 33 shots versus the high-octane Vees. Forward Malcolm Gould paced the Chiefs with two points, scoring the game’s first goal and grabbing an assist in the third. The Chiefs and Vees square off again in Thursday night.

In Cowichan Valley the Surrey Eagles gained a 3-1 series lead by holding off the Capitals in a wild 3rd period. Going into the 3rd with a 5-2 lead, the Eagles were put on their heels with a Capitals score two minutes in, and another eight minutes later to cut the lead to one. However, the Eagles were able to get two unassisted scores from Sean McGovern and Brandon Tanev to finish off Cowichan Valley. 7-5 was the final score.

Another 2-2 series is the Powell River Kings / Coquitlam Express matchup. Home ice has made the difference in this series as the Kings went up 2-0 at home, before losing two straight visiting Coquitlam. Despite being heralded for their defence, the Powell River Kings put 50 shots on goal versus the Coquitlam Express. Goalie Khaleed Devji stopped 48, helping the Express tie up the series with a 4-2 win. The Kings were able to grab their two scores early, but the deadly combination of Alex Petan and Alex Kerfoot led the Express comeback and win. Petan tied things up with two goals in the first, while Kerfoot gave the Express a two-goal lead with a score halfway through the third. The series goes back to Powell River Thursday night.

The three remaining first-round series resume Thursday night.