Giants: Key defender Alex Cotton doubtful with season on the line Sunday

Alex Cotton, one of Vancouver’s three overagers and a key to their power play, may not play Game 6 Sunday after leaving Friday’s 5-2 win in Kamloops with an undisclosed injury

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The Vancouver Giants’ bid to keep their underdog run through these WHL playoffs going on Sunday likely won’t include power play quarterback Alex Cotton.

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Giants general manager Barclay Parneta is listing Cotton as questionable for Game 6 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals against the Kamloops Blazers at the Langley Events Centre. The Giants rallied to beat the Blazers 5-2 Friday at the Sandman Center in Kamloops to cut the Blazers’ series lead to 3-2.

Cotton left Game 5 early with an undisclosed injury.

The right-shot rearguard took a heavy check along the boards from Blazers forward Drew Englot with 1:41 remaining in the first period and was slow coming off the ice. I have played a few shifts in the second period before leaving the game.

If Cotton can’t go Sunday he will become the sixth Giants player who suited up for at least 45 regular season games currently unavailable to coach Michael Dyck, and the second top-six defenseman, joining rookie Mazden Leslie (lower body injury), who was hurt in Game 1 of this set.

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Sunday: Game 6

Kamloops Blazers vs. Vancouver Giants

(Kamloops leads best-of-seven series 3-2)

4pm, Langley Events Centre. Radio: Sportsnet 650.

The Giants (24-39-5-0), who grabbed the eighth and final playoff spot in the West by a single point on the final night of the regular season, already pulled off one of the greatest upsets in WHL post-season history in the first round when they beat No. 1 seeded Everett Silvertips (45-13-5-5), dispatching a team that finished 47 points ahead of them in league play in six games.

In the Blazers (48-17-3-0), they’re trying to get a team that was 46 points in front of them in the regular season.

Game 7, if necessary, would be Tuesday in Kamloops.

“It’s next man up mentality,” Giants defenseman Connor Horning said. “Everyone will have to step up their game. No one person is going to replace Alex Cotton. We’ll have to do it by committee. And I think everyone will take pride in that.”

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Cotton is third in Vancouver playoff scoring, his 16 points leaving him behind only center Zack Ostapchuk (23) and winger Fabian Lysell (21). Cotton’s six goals in the post-season are third best, trailing winger Adam Hall (10) and Ostapchuk (seven).

Two of Cotton’s goals and six of his assists have come on the power play. Vancouver’s man-advantage unit is connecting at 33.3 per cent (15-of-45) after coming in at 17.7 per cent (43-of-243) in the regular season.

Cotton is one of three overages with the Giants. The Langley native turned 21 on Thursday. He was a 2020 fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings.

Defenseman Brenden Pentecost, 19, who split the season between the Giants and the BC Hockey League’s Coquitlam Express, is the most likely candidate to be added to the lineup if Cotton has to sit out. Leslie, who seemed to suffer an ankle injury in Game 1, hasn’t been skating with the team.

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Pentecost had one assist in 21 regular season games with Vancouver. He’s played in one playoff game with the team, seeing duty in Game 4 against Everett, and recorded an assist.

He’s one of 26 Giants who have suited up for at least one game through these two rounds.

It’s been that kind of run. Winger Kyle Bochek, who split the regular season between the Giants and the Saskatchewan Junior A Melville Millionaires, got a chance at regular ice time in the playoffs due to injuries and was quickly getting top-nine ice time from Dyck.

Bochek left Game 4 against Kamloops due to a non-COVID-19 illness, according to Parneta. Cole Shepard (lower body injury), who was playing his first game with Vancouver since March 16 that night, quickly took over that top-nine spot. Bochek didn’t play Game 5. He’ll be a game-time decision Sunday, according to Parneta.

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“Next man is easier said than done,” Dyck said. “It requires guys to step up and that is what we’ve done.”

Precious little has seemed to rattle the Giants through the playoffs, though. The latest example came Friday, when they trailed 2-1 going into the third period, with their season on the line, against a Kamloops team that was 38-1-2-0 when leading after two periods during the regular season.

Vancouver, who managed just five shots in the entire second period that night, had two goals in the first 2:32 of the third and then added two empty-net goals after that.

“The message was take a deep breath, calm down and just be confident,” Ostapchuk said when asked about what was talked about in the Vancouver dressing room between the second and third periods on Friday. “We learned from what we did in the regular season. We’ve blown a couple of leads in the regular season. Our group knows how to deal with it now.”

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Lysell said: “We regrouped there. We have to play like we have nothing to lose. That’s how we should try to play all the time. Try to let loose, but use our physicality at the same time.”

Along with Leslie, Vancouver is missing forwards Payton Mount, Ty Halaburda, Kaden Kohle and Colton Langkow to undisclosed injuries. They were all season-long regulars.

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