Game 1 of the Eastern Conference opening round confirmed that the regular season doesn’t carry any impact when the playoffs roll around.
Overtime was required in all four regular season meetings between the Brandon Wheat Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers, with the Wheat Kings taking the season series 3-1.
The Wheat Kings finished the regular season with more momentum, but ran into a buzz saw in the rematch from last year’s opening round series Friday night at the Canlata Centre.
The biggest news of the day was that 20-year-old netminder Logan Thompson was set to start the series between the pipes. In the days leading up to the best-of-seven series, the Wheat Kings were a steel trap in regards to their goaltender’s health. There was no timetable for his return.
But his surprising return to the crease was a nightmare, as he allowed six goals on 16 shots. Interestingly enough, he couldn’t be faulted on any of them.
The Calgary product looked good early and showed his range by making a big blocker and glove save.
The team in front of him didn’t do him any favours by picking up a pair of penalties deep in the Tigers’ zone.
First, it was Baron Thompson who leveled Dylan MacPherson with a knee who was retrieving a puck in the corner.
Off a Ryan Chyzowski faceoff win, Jaeger White went dee-to-dee over to Kristians Rubins, who spotted Ryan Jevne back in the opposite faceoff circle.
Jevne cranked the one-timer past Thompson, who was nowhere to be found in the play.
As a passerby, David Quenneville had his stick tied up by Luka Burzan in front of the net and bowled over Thompson just as the pass was headed back to Jevne. Thompson had no time to react, as the Wheat Kings bench wanted to argue the call. Their complaints fell on deaf ears, as the refs didn’t review it.
The Wheat Kings found themselves in more penalty trouble when Ben McCartney slashed Gary Haden’s stick clean out of his hands on a forecheck behind the Tigers net.
Only needing 20 seconds on this man advantage, the Tigers’ 50-goal man Mark Rassell roofed his first of the playoffs in tight when a Hayden Ostir shot failed to make it fully to the net.
Sandwiched in between the Tiger power play goals was a Cole Clayton snipe from the point.
Clayton only scored two goals in 56 games during his rookie season, but found the back of the net when Thompson let a Dalton Gally rebound ricochet off his blocker and back out to the point.
The Wheat Kings appeared to get one back as Thompson tipped a McCartney point shot right in front of Hollett. The puck rang of the iron, deflected off Hollett’s back and looked as if it was going to trickle past the goal line. Hollett dove and covered it up just in time, but for the sake of being sure, the refs still wanted another look.
Even though it was ruled not to be a goal, the Wheat Kings left no doubt in the goal judge’s eyes moments later when Cole Reinhardt looked to circle the net behind Hollett but threw a nifty backwards pass out front to Burzan for the tap in to cut it to a 3-1 deficit.
The beat kept going in the second, when during some a minute and a half of four-on-four action, Chyzowski bombed into the zone, toe-dragged through James Shearer into the slot and ripped one past the blocker of Thompson.
Down 4-1, the Wheat Kings looked to gain some momentum following a Quenneville roughing call, but only fell further behind.
Ty Lewis gained the zone and wired a pass along the blue line behind a pair of Wheat Kings. Rassell picked the puck up and was off to the races, only to be caught by Zach Wytinck at the Tiger’s faceoff circle. Rassell slammed on the breaks, spun and hit the trailing Haden in the slot, who ripped one glove side past Thompson.
For Haden, he was playing in his first playoff game after being a healthy scratch in last year’s series with the Wheaties. He had racked up 106 regular season games before playing in his first playoff game tonight.
The painful return for Thompson didn’t last much longer, as Shearer sent a shot high and wide past Hollett, sending the new first line centre Elijah Brown and Bryan Lockner off to the races.
Brown hit Lockner close to the net and he roofed second-career playoff goal over the stacked pads of Thompson.
The other major story entering this series was that James Hamblin dislocated a few bones in his wrist during the Tigers final regular season game. He was ruled out for the entire playoffs and the Tigers needed a new top line centre to get the puck to Rassell.
Luckily, the Tigers turned to a former Ed Chynoweth Cup winner in Brown, who came over from the Seattle Thunderbirds in a trade earlier this fall.
Replacing Thompson was Dylan Myskiw, who filled in nicely for the starter following Thompson’s injury March 9. The 18-year-old goaltender went 5-1-0-0, totalling a 11-5-2-0 record with a .887 save percentage and 3.41 goals against average in his second season in the league.
Myskiw stopped the first eight shots he faced before the Tigers found a way to put one past the Wheaties backup.
For good measure in the third, Rassell snapped a shot on net from just inside the blue line, but scooting in front of the net was Rubins, who quickly grabbed the rebound and roofed it over Myskiw for his third point of the night.
The Wheat Kings had their chances to claw back into it, but the Tigers killed off two consecutive five-on-three power plays, stymieing the first six chances for the Wheat Kings.
Brandon finally got the power play going when the game was already out of reach, when Mattheos spotted Shearer at the top of the zone. His point blast glanced off Quenneville’s stick and past Hollet.
The Wheat Kings out shot the Tigers 30-27 and had three more power play chances, but Hollett came up big with 25 saves.
It will be interesting to see who starts between the pipes for both teams in Game 2. Tigers Head Coach Shaun Clouston has been operating with a two-goalie system all year and said that he wasn’t scared to rotate them in a playoff series. At the other end of the rink, it will be interesting to see how much faith David Anning has in his No. 1 option.