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Winterhawks leave Royals with mountain to climb

Victoria hosts Game 4 on Wednesday
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Royals forward Reggie Newman tries to head up ice as Winterhawks forward Luca Cagnoni closes in during Game 3 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Tuesday. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

The Victoria Royals are left to climb an obstacle as big as Mount Hood.

They must do something that has only been accomplished thrice in the 57-year history of the Western Hockey League. Just three WHL teams have rallied from 3-0 playoff deficits in nearly six decades. The Royals will have to become the fourth if they are to get to the second round of the playoffs.

The Portland Winterhawks took the 3-0 stranglehold on their best-of-seven opening-round series with an electric 6-5 victory on Tuesday night before 3,157 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre who made the noise of double that amount of people.

“Everyone knows the history of being down 3-0 in hockey,” said Royals head coach James Patrick, entering the game, to emphasize how big the third contest was.

“It’s very well publicized at the NHL level.”

For the record, rallying from 3-0 down has been done only four times in the big league.

“It has happened,” said Patrick.

It will need to for the Royals.

An ill-timed four-minute high-sticking double-minor penalty by the Victoria player you would least expect it from, forward Casper Haugen Evensen, proved fatal as it allowed Portland to score the 5-4 goal by Josh Davies at 9:54 of the third period. Gabe Klassen added what would be the winner at 12:57 on a marvellous near rink-length stretch pass from San Jose Sharks-drafted defenceman Luca Cagnoni. Victoria, in a spirited effort all night, pulled to within one on the power play in the last minute through Tyson Laventure but it wasn’t enough.

Victoria looked to get just the kind of start it needed at home when Teydon Trembecky scored at 6:03 of the first period. But two goals by James Stefan, signed recently to an NHL entry-level contract by the Edmonton Oilers, gave Portland the lead heading into the first break. Victoria retook the lead on early second-period goals by NHL Arizona Coyotes-drafted defenceman Justin Kipkie and Tanner Scott’s second goal of the series, both off excellent assists from Laventure and blueliner Nate Misskey, respectively.

Victoria carried the play in the second period but it was defenceman Josh Mori and Stefan’s third goal of the game, and fifth of the series, that regained the lead 4-3 for the Winterhawks. That is what superior teams do to you. The only two defensive breakdowns of the middle period by Western Conference seventh-seed Victoria were punished unmercifully by second-seed Portland, the No. 5-ranked team in the CHL national top-10 poll.

The Royals tied it at 28 seconds of the third period on a goal by Evensen. The 2024 world junior championship tournament player for Norway would factor again in the final period, but not in a good way for Victoria. His costly penalty was inadvertent but you are responsible for your stick.

It was the first playoff game on Blanshard Street since 2019, due to two playoff years lost to the pandemic and Victoria failing to qualify the last two years.

The fourth game of the series is tonight at the Memorial Centre. The fifth game, if required, would be Friday night also in Victoria in the 2-3-2 format. That is a perk for the lower-seed Royals and one they were hoping to use to their advantage.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com