Four teams separated by two points battling for three playoff spots should make for an interesting final as the Western Hockey League regular season winds down.
And the Vancouver Giants – who on December 8 were listed as No. 10 in the KIA CHL Top-10 rankings –could find themselves on the outside looking in as they suffered a sixth-consecutive loss on Sunday afternoon.
The visiting Spokane Chiefs knocked off the Vancouver Giants for a second straight game at Langley Events Centre, this time by a 4-1 score to pull within a single point of Vancouver and the Victoria Royals, as both those clubs have 50 points and sit sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Western Conference.
Spokane is in the eighth and final playoff spot with 49 points, one ahead of the Prince George Cougars’ 48 points.
Of the four teams, Vancouver has the most remaining games (six) but all their opponents (Kelowna three times and single games against Kamloops, Portland and Seattle) are 30 or more points ahead of the Giants in the standings. The Cougars have five games left to play while Victoria and Spokane each have four remaining games and, in those games, Victoria faces Prince George once (April 9) before a huge two-game series on April 15 and 16 against Spokane.
“This one is past us; obviously it is not what we wanted,” said Giants coach Michael Dyck. “At some point, we will have to get ourselves ready for next weekend.”
Sunday’s game saw the Chiefs score twice on just four first-period shots – the first of which was a two-on-zero with the Giants were short-handed – to build a lead they would not relinquish. Nick McCarry and Bear Hughes had the goals.
Vancouver’s Fabian Lysell did give the home side some life in the middle stanza as stole the puck in the defensive zone while his team was short-handed and beat Spokane goaltender Mason Beaupit high glove to get his team on the board.
With Vancouver pressing for the tying goal in the third period, McCarry converted on a three-on-one at the 7:34 mark of the third for his second of the game to give Spokane a 3-1 lead. Erik Atchison completed the scoring, hitting the empty net with 25 seconds to play. Dyck said he had hoped his team would have come out with more jump in the third period after pulling to within a goal, especially considering the Chiefs were playing their third game in as many days as goaltender Mason Beaupit was in net for all three contests in the 48-hour span.
“The first five or six minutes, we didn’t get a shot and we certainly wanted to put a little more pressure on them. But I thought we got it going in the last part of the third,” he said. “A one-goal game and we put the heat on, but their goaltender played pretty well and made some big saves for them.”
Special teams continue to be an area of concern as Vancouver has just one power-play goal in their past five games.
“We have to play faster. I think when we play fast and get the puck on net, we have bodies in front, we create momentum. That is essentially what we want to do. We don’t have to look for the perfect play, we just have to get more pucks on net,” Dyck said. “It is a matter of those guys working together.”
Final shots in Sunday’s game were 31-25 for the Giants with Beaupit finishing with 30 saves while Connor Martin stopped 21 of 24 pucks.
Up next for the Giants is a home game April 8 (7:30pm) when they host the Portland Winterhawks at Langley Events Centre. It is the start of a busy three-game weekend as Vancouver visits the Kelowna Rockets on Saturday and Sunday.