The Victoria Grizzlies drew first blood in Round 1 of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs on Friday night at Bear Mountain Arena — a thirsty-looking lot who snapped a six-game winless stretch over the last half-dozen regular-season games.
Leo Fitzgerald returned to the lineup and collected a goal and three assists in a 5-2 victory over the Powell River Kings in the opener of the best-of-five Coastal Conference clash.
Game 2 goes tonight at 7:15 at the Bear’s Den before the scene shifts on Monday.
“That looked more like our hockey club. I thought we took the game over in the second period,” said Grizzlies general manager and head coach Bill Bestwick.
“I thought we gave up too many quality chances in the first, but our goaltending was good.”
Fitzgerald had missed the last couple of games of the regular season and provided a huge spark offensively.
“What a difference. You could see down the stretch, six games without our full roster,” Bestwick said of the six-game winless streak. “You could see the speed and the skill and puck ability.”
Defenceman D.J. Jones, who had returned home with mononucleosis, was also back in the lineup and had an assist on the opening goal. Without Jones, the Grizzlies had suffered six losses, two in regulation and four in overtime.
“We’ll take this win. We’re happy about it and we’ll come back [tonight] and try and do it again,” Bestwick added.
The Grizzlies got what they desperately needed, an early goal as Myles Fitzgerald’s shot flopped up and popped behind Kings goalie Jonah Imoo for a 1-0 lead 5:41 into the first. David Mazurek, who was centring the Fitzgerald boys, was right there for good measure, but the puck was already deemed in.
A three-goal second period then took the steam out of the Kings.
Nolan DeJong made it 2-0 at 7:46 of the middle frame when his shot deflected off Powell River’s Jordan Paddock. Affiliated player Josh Adkins struck on a nice feed from Dante Hahn for a 3-0 lead at 14:27 before Leo Fitzgerald was in the right place at right time to make it 4-0 on a power play four minutes later.
J.P. Villeneuve finally got the visitors on the scoreboard 2:16 into the third period on a power-play goal that got by Grizzlies netminder Brady Rouleau.
But Mazurek — with his dad Ted in attendance as the Grizzlies flew him in from Ontario — added a late power-play goal. Landon Robin then scored with 41.8 seconds left for Powell River.
The Grizzlies had claimed six of eight meetings from Powell River this regular season, including an overtime loss, outscoring them 31-24 in the process.
Of course, the last time these two teams met in post-season play, the Grizzlies blew a 3-0 series lead, losing four straight in a crushing ending to 2011.
IN THE DEN: The Grizzlies also got Pearce Eviston and Stefan Nicholishen back for Game 1, but lost Eviston with 53.5 seconds left to a shoulder injury. Defenceman Chris Albertini (charleyhorse) left a handful of minutes into the game.
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