The Victoria Royals gave the big and fast Portland Winterhawks, the No. 6-ranked team in the CHL top-10 poll, a good spin around the rink Tuesday night in a 5-3 WHL victory at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre to snap Portland’s five-game winning streak.
But it’s the kind of win you acknowledge with one hand pointed at the heavens and the other at your goaltender. In a season pattern, Victoria’s goaltending was again outstanding, with Tyler Palmer facing 50 shots. One them was a spectacular lifted-leg stop that helped save the game in the waning moments with the score 4-3.
“I knew I had to stop that puck to get the win,” said Palmer, of the play.
“I’m trying to see the pucks, focus on the fundamentals, and trying to battle as hard as I can.”
Victoria is, rather surprisingly, 2-0 this season against Portland (36-14-5) despite allowing a combined 107 shots in those two games.
The Royals (16-32-6) got 32 shots Tuesday on undrafted goaltender Taylor Gauthier, signed this month to an NHL entry-level contract by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and who entered the game with a 14-1 record for the Winterhawks since the trade in December that brought him to Portland from Prince George.
Royals captain Tarun Fizer had two goals, one into an empty net, in a four-point night. Bailey Peach scored his 30th goal of the season for Victoria on a penalty shot to make it 4-2 in the second period on his 21st birthday. Riley Gannon, on the power play, and defenceman Luke Shipley scored the other Victoria goals. Robbie Fromm-Delorme scored twice for Portland.
The win was tempered by the worst thing that could happen to Victoria’s beleaguered defence when the true breakout player of the blueline, San Jose Sharks fourth-round draft pick Gannon Laroque, went down hard in the first period following a hitting-from-behind penalty on Portland’s Luke Schelter. It did not look good and Laroque didn’t return to the game. His status was not known. A prolonged absence would have serious implications for the Royals over their final 14 regular-season games.
The Royals are already without Swiss world junior player Keanu Derungs and 20-year-old Evan Patrician, both forwards. This is not a team with the kind of depth to make up for those kinds of losses.
The Spokane Chiefs hold down the eighth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the ninth-place Royals, and four up on the 10th-place Americans. The Chiefs and Americans each hold a game in hand on Victoria.
The Royals and Winterhawks meet again tonight to conclude Portland’s first visit to Blanshard Street since pre-pandemic days on Jan. 10-11, 2020.