The Victoria Royals can clinch a Western Hockey League playoff berth with a win tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial against the Spokane Chiefs.
But with the Royals trailing the Chiefs 3-1 on Friday night, it was hard to tell which team is likely headed to the playoffs and which one isn’t.
The Royals rallied for a 4-3 victory to push the Chiefs to the brink.
“We knew it was going to be a playoff-type environment and hard-fought game against a team playing with a high level of desperation,” said Victoria coach Dave Lowry.
“The Chiefs are a very good team. Unfortunately, they are playing in a tough conference, as are we.”
Matthew Phillips’ 44th goal of the season, on a puck salvaged from behind the net by Carter Folk, gave the Royals the winning goal at 13:54 of the third period before 6,148 fans at the Memorial Centre.
“Full credit to [Folk],” said Phillips.
Also credit to some stellar goaltending in the third period by Griffen Outhouse to set the all-time Chilliwack Bruins/Victoria Royals franchise record for wins in a season with 33. Coleman Vollrath had 32 last season.
These teams met in the first round of the playoffs last year, with Victoria winning in six games, and there were some spillover emotions.
“There was a bit of that . . . it is going to be inevitable when two teams played in the playoffs the season before,” said Phillips, who had a three point night.
Goals by Jaret Anderson-Dolan, the 35th of the season for the player projected for the second round of the 2017 NHL draft, and Ondrej Najman gave Spokane leads of 1-0 and 2-1. Interspersed was Jack Walker’s 28th goal of the season for Victoria. Ethan McIndoe made it 3-1 before two power-play goals by Dante Hannoun brought Victoria level at 3-3 heading into the third period.
It was the eighth and ninth power-play goals over the past four games for Victoria, which has won its past five games.
“We are keeping it simple on the power play,” added Hannoun.
Vladimir Bobylev had two assists for Victoria and Walker also had a two-point night.
Outhouse, making his workhorse 57th appearance, made 26 saves. Former Royals goaltender, 20-year-old Jayden Sittler, made 28 saves for Spokane.
The Chiefs are (26-28-9) and their run of 10 consecutive playoff appearances is in severe doubt. The West seventh-seed Royals are 36-23-5 and are 16 points ahead of Spokane. A Victoria win tonight wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the Chiefs, who can still target eighth-place Portland, but Spokane’s hopes are dangling by the slenderest of threads as they trail the Winterhawks by 11 points.
Yet, players like Anderson-Dolan and Kailer Yamamoto, the latter top 10 in WHL scoring and projected for the first round of the 2017 NHL draft, have experts high on the Chiefs’ future.