Giants send WHL final back to Prince Albert

(Gerry Kahrmann/PNG) Prince Albert Raiders forward Ozzy Wiesblatt tries to corral a loose puck while Vancouver Giants forward Tristen Nielsen gets in front of netminder David Tendeck on Friday night at the Langley Events Centre.

With their season on the line, the Vancouver Giants came up with a strong performance to keep their quest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup alive.

Down 3-1 in the Western Hockey League final, the Giants picked up a 4-3 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders in their last game of the season at the Langley Events Centre and forced a Game 6 at the Art Hauser Centre Sunday at 6 p.m.

“We’re not done yet,” Giants blueliner Dylan Plouffe said to Giants play-by-play announcer Dan O’Connor on the Sportsnet 650 post-game show. “That’s the mentality that we have right now.

“We’ve had a lot of confidence in ourselves all year long. Our backs were against the wall tonight  and we made sure that our last game wasn’t going to be on home ice”

The game was tied at one after the first period, but the Raiders would move out in front at the 2:45 mark of the middle frame as Dante Hannoun scored just seconds after the visitors killed off a Brett Leason roughing penalty.

That lead would last 50 seconds as Bowen Byram sniped home his eighth of the playoffs, while Davis Koch and Plouffe would both score at the midway point of the contest to send the Giants crowd into a frenzy.

“There were a couple of rebounds and a couple of missed assignments there, which is not like us,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “We’re usually pretty good at those types of things.

“We were there, but we weren’t quite there at times tonight. You need to play at a certain level when a series is on the line, and close isn’t good enough.”

Noah Gregor cut the gap down to a single goal a few minutes later and the Raiders outshot the Giants by a 15-5 margin in the final frame, but they were unable to get any closer.

“We had a number of chances to bury the puck, especially at the end of the game, but we came up a little bit short,” Gregor said.

“When we raised our level of play in the third period, we were good,” Habscheid added. “We just need to do that a little more often before we get to the third period.”

Byram and Brayden Watts led the way for the Giants on offence with a goal and an assist each, while Jadon Joseph had a pair of helpers and David Tendeck made 37 saves.

“We showed a lot of character tonight,” said Byram, who now has 25 points in the playoffs and is tied with Leason for the league lead. “This was the first time that we faced elimination all season and now we just need to go out and win two more times.”

“The building blocks for tonight’s game were put in place with how we played on Wednesday (in a 1-0 loss) as we continued to play the right way,” Giants head coach Michael Dyck added. “The guys believe in each other and good things happen when you do that.”

Leason had a pair of assists in the loss, which saw Aliaksei Protas find the back of the net and Ian Scott turn aside 26 shots.

The Raiders will have another chance to capture their first league title since 1985 in Prince Albert on Sunday, with a seventh and deciding contest taking place at the Art Hauser Centre on Monday at 7 p.m. if needed.

“If someone had told me at the start of the year that we’d have two games at home to try and win the league title, we’d take it,” Habscheid said.

“Everyone knows that it’s a tough place to play in,” Raiders captain Brayden Pachal added. “We can’t wait to have our fans welcome us back home and it’s going to be a loud one for sure.”

Tickets for both games will go on sale at the Art Hauser Centre box office at 9 a.m. Saturday, with a limit of six tickets per person.

Online sales will start at 10 a.m.

If a seventh game is not required, fans can use the tickets as a voucher towards any regular season contest during the 2019-20 campaign.

Post-Game Notes

5,033 fans were in attendance for Friday’s encounter at the Langley Events Centre, which set a new record for the largest crowd for a hockey game at the facility.

The Giants’ biggest crowd since moving to Langley three years ago came on April 19 of this year when 4,917 fans came to the opening game of the Western Conference Final series against the Spokane Chiefs.

This marks the third straight year that the WHL final will go at least six games, as the Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Regina Pats on the road in 2017 and the Swift Current Broncos knocked off the Everett Silvertips on home ice last May.

Leason’s two assist night allowed him to set the longest point streak in this year’s playoffs at eight games, while Protas’ first period marker has him in a tie with Riley Woods of the Spokane Chiefs for the second longest run at seven games.

Max Martin, who missed the last two games with an injury, was back on the Raiders blueline Friday as Loeden Schaufler was scratched.

Landon Fuller, Tyler Ho, Aidan Barfoot and Nic Draffin did not dress for the Giants.

Friday’s Scores

OHL

  • Guelph 4 Ottawa 3 (Guelph leads 3-2 – Alexey Toropchenko – One Goal and One Assist)

Thursday’s Scores

QMJHL

  • Rouyn-Noranda 6 Halifax 3 (Rouyn-Noranda leads 3-2 – Rafael Harvey-Pinard – Three Goals – Third Career Playoff Hat Trick and Second This Year)

Saturday’s Schedule

  • Rouyn-Noranda vs. Halifax (Game 6) – 1 p.m.

Sunday’s Schedule

  • Ottawa vs. Guelph (Game 6) – 12 p.m.
  • Vancouver vs. Prince Albert (Game 6) – 6 p.m.