At times, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Tired fish, in an oxygen-deprived barrel, to be exact.
With just one win in their last 13 games and playing their fifth outing in six nights, a tired-looking Victoria Royals team was definitely swimming upstream Sunday, hosting the league-leading Portland Winterhawks, who last played on Tuesday.
In the end, the talent-laden Winterhawks clinched first place overall in the Western Hockey League with a convincing 5-2 decision.
Chase De Leo had three goals, including an empty-netter, and linemates Taylor Leier and Oliver Bjorkstrand had four helpers and a goal and an assist, respectively, for the victors.
“For us it’s a tough, tough schedule, but at the end of the day we can’t use that as a crutch,” Royals head coach Dave Lowry said. “If anything, we’re going to use it as a method of preparation and understanding that come playoff time, you’re going to be playing four games in five nights or five in seven nights.
“For us, going through it now and understanding how tough it is, it might be a blessing for us.”
The Royals kept it tight defensively, playing Lowry’s structured game and refusing to allow Portland a lot of wiggle room.
Bjorkstrand put the Royals down 1-0 just 3:34 in, but the hosts escaped the period in which they were outshot 16-9 without further damage.
Victoria’s Brandon Magee — playing in his 200th WHL game — was thwarted by Portland netminder Brendan Burke in the dying seconds of the opening frame.
The visitors then got to Royals goaltender Coleman Vollrath, who had an excellent outing, as De Leo finished a nifty forehand-to-backhand deke midway through the second.
Highly touted prospect Seth Jones then ripped a wrister from the point on a delayed penalty call at 13:08 of the second to make it 3-0.
“It was a great pass from [Ty] Rattie,” Jones said. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs. He was about to shoot it. I screamed and, luckily, he saw me.”
The shots were 17-7 in the middle frame (33-16 overall at that point), nowhere near the onslaught Royals’ usual starter, Patrik Polivka, faced in Portland in early November (30 shots in the first period of a 6-2 loss) — but lopsided just the same.
Logan Nelson snapped the goose egg for the Royals at 7:47 of the third period on a shot Portland goaltender Brendan Burke should probably have had, before De Leo made it 4-1.
Victoria defenceman Joe Hicketts then notched a beauty, scrambling from his knees with 1:21 to go before the empty-netter.
“I can’t fault the effort of my team. I thought for a team that travelled today, a third game [in three nights], an early game and everything that factors in, we competed,” said Lowry, whose Royals returned from a loss in Vancouver the night before.
Portland was obviously fresh, sitting four days while the Royals — depleted by suspension and injuries — looked, at times, like they were swimming in mud.
The two teams are back at it on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
GAME NOTES: The Royals will face the Kamloops Blazers in the post-season beginning Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23, in the Interior. Post-season tickets go on sale Monday. ... In his 200 WHL games, Magee has 137 points on 66 goals.
© Copyright 2013