If the Vancouver Giants are going to pull another playoff upset they’re going to have accomplished it without the benefit of a head start this time.
The No. 8 seeded Giants dropped a 3-1 decision to the No. 2 Kamloops Blazers Friday night at the Sandman Center in Kamloops to open the best-of-seven WHL Western Conference semifinals. Game 2 is Saturday at the Sandman Centre, while the series shifts to the Langley Events Center for Game 3 on Tuesday.
The Giants beat the No. 1 Everett Silvertips 5-4 in overtime in Game 1 of the best-of-seven quarterfinals and then went on to knock off the Silvertips in six games. It was the first time since the WHL playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 2002 that a No. 8 seed had beaten a No. 1 in the first round. Vancouver (24-39-5-0) finished 47 points behind the Everett (45-13-5-5) in the regular season. Kamloops (48-17-3-0) was one point behind Everett in league play.
The Blazers got one goal and one assist from Caedan Bankier. He now has points in 15 straight games dating back to the regular season. Reese Belton and Ethan Rowland also scored for Kamloops. Dylan Garand made 30 saves.
Saturday: Game 2
Kamloops leads best-of-seven series 1-0
Vancouver Giants vs. Kamloops Blazers
7 pm, Sandman Centre. Radio: Sportsnet 650.
Adam Hall broke Garand’s shutout with 12:56 to go on a redirection of a Damian Palmieri shot. It was his eighth of the playoffs.
Jesper Vikman made 35 saves for Vancouver.
Vancouver’s power play, which was pedestrian all regular season but connected at an eye-popping 37.5 per cent (12-of-32) clip against Everett, was held to 0-of-3 Friday. Vancouver’s top line of Hall, Fabian Lysell, and Zack Ostapchuk, who spearheaded the series win, was held to seven combined shots. They had 15 shots combined in Game 1 versus Everett.
Any chances of a Vancouver comeback were denied when defenseman Alex Cotton was assessed a tripping penalty with 1:58.
That’s just part of the story. Here’s what else we learned.
TOUGH SHIFT TIMES TWO
Vancouver athletic trainer Mike Burnstein and his Kamloops counterpart Colin Robinson both ended up on the ice with 37.2 seconds remaining in the first period to take care of one of their players. Burnstein was out there for Vancouver defenseman Mazden Leslie, who had gotten twisted up trying to make a play around the Vancouver net. Leslie had tried to get off the ice during on his own during game action, and that’s when Kamloops forward Luke Toporowski stole the puck, went in all alone on Vancouver netminder Jesper Vikman and then tumbled into the back wall after being thwarted by Vikman. Robinson was attending Toporowski.
Neither Leslie nor Toporowski returned to the game.
Leslie seemed to favor an ankle. He looked like he got hurt in the waning stages of Game 6 against Everett as well. Toporwski seemed to have a shoulder issue. He missed the Blazers’ final 12 regular season games with a lower body injury, but he played all four games in the Blazers’ first-round sweep of the Spokane Chiefs. He had five goals and 10 points against Spokane, the team that he played the first 223 games of his WHL career with before being traded to Kamloops at the Jan. 17 trade deadline to help the Blazers’ playoff run.
INJURY WOES FOR GIANTS
Vancouver winger Colton Langkow left the game in the first period with an undisclosed injury. I have missed Game 2 of the Everett series. He’s been listed as a game-time decision at various times during these playoffs.
Langkow has played his best hockey this season in the playoffs. HIs rugged style seems to fit with the postseason.
Sammy May, who played one game with the Giants in the regular season and spent the majority of the campaign playing Junior A with both the Langley Rivermen and the Drayton Valley Thunder, and underage call-up Justin Ivanusec are the extra forwards that Vancouver took on the trip. Payton Mount (upper body), who got hurt in the Everett series, didn’t go to Kamloops, nor did Cole Shepard (lower body) or Jacob Boucher (lower body).
TEAMS MEET AGAIN
The Blazers went 10-1-1-0 against the Giants in the regular season. Logan Stankoven had nine goals and 20 points, Matthew Seminoff put up six goals and 14 points while Quinn Schmiemann had four goals and 14 points.
Lysell paced Vancouver with five goals and 10 points. Ostapchuk had six goals and seven points.
This is the first playoff series between the teams since the 2010 opening round, when No. 2 Vancouver swept No. 7 Kamloops. Two of the games did go to overtime.
Craig Cunningham had five goals and 10 points and Brendan Gallagher put up our goals and 10 points for the Giants. That Vancouver team lost in six games to the Tri-City Americans in the Western Conference finale.
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