The Victoria Grizzlies (finished 37-12-5-4, 83 points, 1st in Island Division) and Nanaimo Clippers (finished 23-28-6-1, 51 points, 4th in Island Division) played what turned out to be the decisive game five of their BCHL Fred Page Cup Playoff first round series on Friday night at the Q Centre in Victoria.
The Grizzlies were relentless, and defenseman Jake Stevens put on a show, collecting a hat trick, leading his team to a 4-2 win and a 4-1 series victory over Nanaimo.
With the five-game first round victory over the Clippers, Victoria has advanced to the second round where they will face the Powell River Kings. The second seed in the Island Division, Powell River swept the Cowichan Valley Capitals in their first round series.
Sensing the opportunity at hand, to clinch the first round victory on home ice, the Grizzlies came out energized and played a strong first period, outshooting Nanaimo by a count of 9-2.
Victoria carried a one-goal lead through that first period, thanks to the only goal of the frame coming from Jake Stevens, his first of the night, coming five minutes into the game.
Stevens added to his team’s lead in the opening minutes of the second period, burying his second of the game. The Grizzlies continued to push, and before the midway point of the game, Stevens completed the natural hat trick, giving his team a 3-0 lead on his first three goals of the playoffs.
With their season hanging in the balance, the Clippers put on a desperate push in the third period, in an effort to keep their season alive.
Jake Harris got Nanaimo on the board two minutes into the third with his first goal of the playoffs. Late in the period, with under four minutes remaining, Spencer Hewson’s first of the playoffs drew the Clippers to within a goal at 3-2, setting up one final flurry.
That is as close as they would come, as Matthew Galajda stood tall in goal for the Grizzlies in the final moments and then Jamie Rome picked up an empty net goal in the final seconds, his third goal of the playoffs, to seal the 4-2 victory.
Galajda stopped 25 of 27 Nanaimo shots in the Grizzlies net, including 15 of 17 in the third period, backstopping the Grizzlies to victory.
Evan DeBrouwer made 33 saves on 36 shots in goal for the Clippers.
Stevens led all goal scorers while Grizzlies’ captain Cody Van Lierop chipped in three assists.
Victoria finished 1-3 on the powerplay while Nanaimo was 1-4.
The Grizzlies will play the Powell River Kings in the second round. Victoria, as the higher seed, will have home ice advantage the best-of-seven series which is slated to begin on Friday, March 17.