The WHL Championship is going the distance for the first time in five years.
The last final round to go seven games was the 2014 Championship series when the Edmonton Oil Kings beat the Portland Winterhawks 4-2 in Game 7 and eventually went on to win the Memorial Cup.
This is the second straight WHL Final appearance to go seven games for the Giants, losing to Medicine Hat in 2007 prior to their own Memorial Cup victory.
Vancouver forced a game seven despite facing elimination for the second straight game in a tightly played 4-2 win on Sunday night in front of a packed house at the Art Hauser Centre.
“I’m proud of the way we played. Obviously coming into a building that isn’t easy to play in, but I think we fed off the energy early and I liked the way we responded after giving up a goal in the first minute. I thought we played solid from there,” Vancouver coach Michael Dyck said about his team’s performance.
The Prince Albert Raiders got off to a quick start in the opening minute when Parker Kelly was able to pounce on his own rebound in tight to open the scoring just 53 seconds into Game 6, the second time this series the Ottawa Senators prospect has done so (41 seconds into Game 3).
The Giants responded back as well as a team could after allowing an early goal, hemming the Raiders in their zone at times and playing a strong defensive game.
“It’s been the identity of our group this whole year to bounce back. We knew coming into tonight whether they got the first one or we did, we weren’t going to change our game. We were going to stick to our game plan and I was proud of the way that the boys handled that adversity early and bounced back,” captain Jared Dmytriw said about his team’s bounce back after giving up an early goal.
The response paid off for the Western Conference champions when Davis Koch scored his fourth of the playoffs, and first of two on the night, when he put a beautiful back hand shot in tight over Ian Scott’s shoulder from the left wing side, giving him a goal in back-to-back games for the first time since the beginning of March. The play started with a nice rush from Milos Roman who split the defence and managed to get the puck into the corner for Koch to scoop up for his goal.
The pace evened out a bit after the Vancouver goal with the Raiders picking up their play until the Giants struck again, this time from Owen Hardy. It all started with a poke check from Seth Bafaro on the Giants’ blue line and sent Vancouver on an odd-man rush where all three of “The Hardy Boys” connected for the goal when Dawson Holt dished the puck to captain Jared Dmytriw who skated down the right wing and found Hardy in the slot and made no mistake, wristing it past Scott for his fifth of the postseason.
The Raiders were able to escape the first period with a tie with yet another goal, this time in the final minute, from Parker Kelly who was left alone in front and put a quick deke past David Tendeck to head into the rooms knotted up at two goals a piece.
Game 6’s middle frame went scoreless but included both teams’ only timeouts being used, both coming after icings to give their team a breather during a tight checking period.
The final 20 minutes was just as tightly played but the bounces went in the Giants’ favour and had very solid goaltending from Arizona Coyotes prospect David Tendeck.
Jared Dmytriw potted the game winning goal 3:40 into the period, jumping on a rebound off of Scott’s right pad for his team leading ninth goal of the playoffs, three of them being game winners and one being the series clincher in the first round.
“Luke (Svejkovsky) got the puck on the half wall and the puck kind of squirted out and I was able to get on the rebound,” Dmytriw said describing his goal.
Each team had a power play in the final ten minutes but were not able to convert, with both power plays going 0/2 on the night.
Prince Albert threw everything they could at David Tendeck in the final minutes with an extra attacker but the 19-year-old was locked in after giving up the two goals in the first period. More than a handful of his 36 saves came in the dying minutes but managed to stay composed through it all.
“He’s another guy that’s got a level of composure that gives everybody else confidence. Whether its David or Trent, we’ve had that all year long. We’re pretty fortunate to have two very good goaltenders,” Dyck said about Tendeck being able to stay calm and collected in high pressure situations.
Overage forward Davis Koch scored the empty netter for his second of the night with 15 seconds left to seal the deal for Vancouver.
Game 7 goes Monday night at 6pm PST as the Giants look to be the first team since 1981 to come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the WHL Championship.
Series PP: VAN: 4/18 (22.2%) PA: 6/22 (27.3%)
Series PK: VAN: 16/22 (72.7%) PA: 14/18 (77.7%)