Saturday, May 11, 2019

Giants Force WHL Final Back To Prince Albert

Photo: Doug Westcott (Vancouver Giants) 

The Vancouver Giants aren’t done yet.

Multi-point games from Bowen Byram, a prospect eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, Brayden Watts, and Jadon Joseph powered the Giants to a 4-3 victory in Game 5 of the 2019 Rogers WHL Championship Series Friday. The best-of-seven championship series is now led 3-2 by the Raiders.

Friday’s win came in front of a record crowd of 5,033 at the Langley Events Centre.

In their final game of the season on home ice, the Giants put everything they had into continuing their pursuit of winning a second WHL Championship. The team’s defining moment came in the second period as they reeled off three-straight goals to take a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of regulation.

“I thought we played well,” said Giants head coach Michael Dyck. “I think the building blocks were in place tonight for how we played on Wednesday and we carried that effort forward to tonight.”

Watts opened the scoring in the first. As Joseph controlled the puck into the offensive zone, he passed the puck over to teammate Tristen Nielsen. The Fort St. John, B.C. product put the puck on net, which was turned aside by goaltender Ian Scott. However, the rebound came right to Watts, who had the majority of an open net to shoot at to give the home team the first lead of the game.

The Raiders would reply back later in the period off a big rebound opportunity of their own. Bursting into the zone, Sean Montgomery put the puck on net, where David Tendeck stopped it. The ensuing rebound popped right out to Aliaksei Protas, a prospect eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, who made no mistake on burying his 12th goal of the 2019 WHL Playoffs.

Looking to secure the championship-clinching victory Friday, the Raiders went ahead early in the second off the stick of Dante Hannoun. The Delta, B.C. product caused some havoc and an eventual turnover behind the Giants’ net. In the ensuing confusion, Brett Leason, a prospect eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, fed the puck out front for Hannoun, who put his team ahead 2-1.

That goal would spark the Giants’ offence. Rallying for three consecutive goals, Vancouver earned back the lead over the next nine minutes of game play.

First, Joseph picked up his second assist of the night on a goal by Byram. The Canadian Hockey League’s top-ranked prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft was met with a pass from Joseph just above the face-off circle to the right of Scott. Shooting through a screen, Byram leveled the score with his eighth goal of the 2019 WHL Playoffs.

“We were ready to play from the start,” Byram said. “We’ve got two more games to win and that’s what we’re focused on now.”

Minutes later, the Giants scored again; this time due to the skill work of Davis Koch. The product of White Rock, B.C. went hard to the net after a shot from the outside by Seth Bafaro. Though there wasn’t much of a rebound opportunity, Koch still found the time and space to put the loose puck past Scott to hand the lead back to the Giants.

Raiders’ head coach Marc Habscheid attributed Friday’s loss to the chances the Giants got off rebounds and missed assignments.

“That’s not like us,” Habscheid said. “We’re pretty good with those types of things. We were there, but not quite there.”

Doubling their lead less than two minutes later, the Giants won a battle along the boards in the Raiders’ end. Coming out with the puck, Dawson Holt set up Dylan Plouffe for the perfect one-time shot, which beat Scott to extend the home team’s lead to two.

“It’s pretty special,” Plouffe said of his goal and the eventual victory. “Once you get one in you believe. When one guy gets a goal, everyone gets excited on the bench.”

Tough they’d end up taking the loss on this night, the Raiders didn’t go down without a fight. Noah Gregor, a prospect of the San Jose Sharks, scored with 4:06 left in the second period, slipping a slick back-hand shot past Tendeck on the short side.

After stopping 10 of 11 shots in the first and 12 of 14 in the second, Tendeck stopped all 15 shots from the Raiders in the third period as they made a push to level the score. The Arizona Coyotes prospect from North Vancouver, B.C. earned his 10th win between the pipes in the 2019 WHL Playoffs. Scott stopped 26 of 30 shots in the narrow loss.

The Giants’ commitment to defence aided Tendeck in the third. On a particular chance, Leason had a prime scoring opportunity, only for Plouffe to come through with a game-saving poke check to separate the offensively-minded forward from the puck. Heading back to Prince Albert for Sunday’s Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7 Monday, Dyck said his club was encouraged.

“They’ve stuck with it,” Dyck said. “They believe in what we’re doing and most importantly in themselves.”

With their multi-point performances Friday, Leason and Byram remained tied for the scoring lead in the 2019 WHL Playoffs with 25 points each. Hannoun’s goal in the second period was his 13th of the 2019 WHL Playoffs, allowing him to retake the lead in that statistical category from his teammate Protas. Byram holds the lead in assists with 17, one more than his teammate Koch.

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