ESQUIMALT, B.C. – The Victoria Cougars beat the Peninsula Panthers 4-1 at Archie Browning Sports Centre on Thursday night.

With the win, Victoria leapfrogs over the idle Saanich Braves for first place in the South Island Division.

Mateo Albinati scored twice while Akila Sato-Gaudreau and Jaden McNulty each chipped in with singles for the Cougars.  Nate Reinhart made 23 saves.

Victoria led 2-0 after one period and 3-1 after two.

Replying for the Panthers was Brendan Martin.

The Cougars were without defenseman Alexander Benger who was called up by the Cowichan Valley Capitals for their upcoming three-games-in-three-nights road trip through Prince George, Vernon, and Surrey.

Fresh off his one goal performance at last Sunday’s Prospects Game, Albinati pounced all over a loose puck in the crease and poked it home at 2:01.

It was an auspicious start for Peninsula goalie Connor McKillop who was facing his former team for the very first time.

McKillop handled himself well, turning aside 28 shots.

But at 15:59, Albinati took a feed from McNulty and from the slot he beat McKillop with a shot along the ice.

Albinati now has 17 goals on the season.

The Panthers cut the lead in half at 2:55 of the second period with a highlight-reel goal.  Bursting up ice, Martin skated around Carl Ewert before roofing the puck off the crossbar and in.

Sato-Gaudreau increased the Cougars lead to 3-1, beating McKillop off a pass from Darwin Lakoduk at 10:30.

A third period collision at the Panthers blue line left Martin riving in pain holding his left knee and Victoria captain Liam Kinshella skating off the ice after being assessed a five-minute major for kneeing.  Those penalties came at 6:38.

Martin had to be helped off the ice by teammates Braeden Hansen and Bailey Ross.  He did not return.

Fortunately for the Cougars, Peninsula was unable to capitalize.

Kyle Wade was awarded a penalty shot with 76 seconds remaining in regulation but the Victoria forward hit the post.

However, off the ensuing faceoff, Ewert had his point shot redirected in by McNulty at 18:51.

Both teams finished goalless on two power play opportunities.

Elsewhere in the VIJHL, Billy Walters had a goal and two assists to lead the Nanaimo Buccaneers to a 7-3 victory over the Kerry Park Islanders before an announced crowd of 235 at the Nanaimo Ice Centre.