Victoria Royals must solve Kamloops Blazers’ Island-schooled goaltending

If you were scoring it like boxing, you might have given the Victoria Royals five of the first six periods, and even the overtime, before a sudden knockout punch went the other way.

The Royals had the run of play for most of the opening two games but enter round three Tuesday night in Kamloops of their best-of-seven first-round Western Hockey League playoff series tied 1-1 with the Blazers.

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The 4-0 opening-game Victoria victory was a comprehensive pummelling of the Blazers. The Royals, however, suffered two staggering blows in the first period of the second game when Kamloops scored on its first two shots.

Victoria was chasing the game all night but managed to recover enough to send it to extra time.

The Royals dominated the overtime before the counter-punching Blazers took it 4-3 with one quick jab to the jugular for their first win in their last nine visits to the Island.

“You’ve got to stay steady in the playoffs through all the ups and downs of a series,” Royals head coach Dan Price said. “I feel we’ve been steady and consistent, and have not wavered in our structure and approach.”

Price said that showed when the Royals got back into it in Game 2 despite falling behind 2-0 early (and despite the eventual overtime loss).

“The keys moving forward are our consistency and steadiness that will help ride out the ups and downs of any series,” Price said.

“We will continue attacking with our depth, speed, physicality and pressure.”

A series story line for the Blazers has been its Island-produced goaltending. Veteran 20-year-old Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect Dylan Ferguson of Lantzville was outstanding in making 41 saves in the second game.

Emerging 16-year-old rookie Dylan Garand, out of Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey, was in the nets when Ferguson was injured as the B.C. Division third-seed Blazers survived what were essentially seven elimination games in a seat-of-the-pants late-season rally to make the playoffs.

Garand was excellent in the first game of the series against Victoria in making 34 saves, as the Blazers have maybe the best one-two crease combination in the league.

Yet the B.C. Division second-seed Royals, who do not have high-end finishers, have scored seven goals on Kamloops in two games and will attempt to continue to apply sustained pressure.

“Our offensive group is not given the credit it deserves, and is always out to prove people wrong,” Price said.

“We have depth, and our offence shares the load well.”

The Royals’ blueline, however, is pockmarked by injuries and that is becoming a factor in the series. The WHL stops issuing injury reports in the post-season and Price refused to give status reports on Jameson Murray, Mitchell Prowse or Matthew Smith.

Blueline call-ups Noah Lamb and Carson Golder, along with 17-year-old rookie Parker Malchuk, were forced to play big minutes in Game 2.

“Our older players are a steadying influence and were great in instructing them to play within the glass,” Price said.

“We told [Lamb and Golder] the stands around the rink might be larger than what they are used to, but the rink itself and goal nets and pucks are the same size.”

The Royals’ big two on the blueline, Scott Walford and Ralph Jarratt, gave yeoman service the first two games and must continue eating up major minutes.

Both teams were missing notable forwards in the first two games. The Royals were without leading scorer Kaid Oliver and the Blazers minus Connor Zary, who had been one of the hottest players in the league with a regular-season stretch run of five goals and nine points in four games. Zary is reportedly back tonight while Oliver is likely out for the series.

“Zary is similar to a lot of their forward on their top-two lines,” Price said.

“But we stick to our fundamentals regardless of who is or isn’t on the ice for the other side.”

Game 4 is also at Sandman Centre in Kamloops on Wednesday and Game 5 on Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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