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Kamloops Blazers edge Vancouver Giants to remain perfect in playoffs

“We played a team-first game,” said Bankier, the Minnesota Wild prospect from Cloverdale. “Blocking shots, chipping pucks out — all the little things we could do to get the job done.”

Caedan Bankier is riding a 16-game point streak and his Kamloops Blazers have won six consecutive post-season contests.

The Blazers, who swept the Spokane Chiefs in Round 1, staved off a brave effort from the injury plagued Vancouver Giants in a 4-3 victory on Saturday at Sandman Centre to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

“We played a team-first game,” said Bankier, the Minnesota Wild prospect from Cloverdale. “Blocking shots, chipping pucks out — all the little things we could do to get the job done.”

Game 3 is slated to get underway at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Langley Events Centre. KTW will be there. Follow live updates on twitter — @KTWonBlazers — and find the game story online at kamloopsthisweek.com.

Very close to nothing happened in the first 10 minutes of the game on Saturday, a lack of action that favoured the visiting Giants, who know the Blazers have started well in the post-season, but could not stop them from scoring early on Friday in Game 1.

So it must have been frustrating when, with early concession avoided in Game 2, they allowed a goal at 11:04, when a rebound created by Reese Belton set up wonderfully for Drew Englot, the Candiac, Sask., product who walloped the puck into the yawning cage.

“We thought the game was there for the taking on both sides,” Giants’ associate coach Keith McCambridge said. “Kamloops didn’t grab it in the first period. Same on our end. That’s probably the most disappointing part.”

The Blazers’ goal seemed to spark the Giants, whose Alex Cotton was offered ample time to pick his spot from the point and beat a screened Dylan Garand, who stopped 23 shots on Saturday.

Kamloops was in position to strike with time winding down in the opening frame, on the power play with less than a minute to play.

Evan Toth tallied short-handed at 19:53 to send the visitors into the dressing room with a 2-1 lead, an excuse-me sort of marker that required eagle-eye work from the goal judge, who triggered a great many of the Sandman Centre faithful with his red-light trigger finger.

Officials gathered and briskly determined he did not jump the gun.

Kamloops started like a shot in the second stanza.

NHL Draft prospect Fraser Minten’s snapper was stopped by Vancouver goaltender Jesper Vikman, but the rebound was deposited by Connor Levis, his second goal of the post-season coming at 1:47 to tie the game at 2-2.

“We had a chance to refocus [during the first intermission],” Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston said. “A few reminders. I thought, again, we weren’t real direct in the first period. We managed the puck better and got after it.”

Bankier gave Kamloops the lead at 6:41 and improved his point streak to 16 games with the highlight-reel individual effort, hanging onto the puck while evading defenders before slipping a sharp-angle shot past sprawling Vikman, the Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect who stopped 35 shots in a losing effort.

“Stanks [Logan Stankoven] gave me a good pass off the wall,” Bankier said. “I thought I waited too long, to be honest, but I found a little bit of a hole. I was lucky it went in.”

Stankoven salvaged an anemic Blazers’ power play with a nifty backhand pass to Daylan Kuefler, who accepted the tap-in gift at 14:21 to give his club a two-goal cushion.

“Special teams were the difference,” McCambridge said. “We had some opportunities on the power play. We weren’t able to capitalize. Kamloops capitalized.”

Kamloops was 1-for-9 on the power play. Vancouver was 0-for-5.

Stankoven is second in WHL scoring in the playoffs, with 16 points in six games. Vancouver forward Zack Ostapchuk leads the way, with 17 points in eight games.

The undermanned Giants refused to roll over and got one back through Ethan Semeniuk, who rattled home a loose puck that landed on his stick after a strong rush down the left wing by Jaden Lipinski.

“We don’t dwell on it too much,” McCambridge said when asked about the injury list, which includes about half of the Giants' first-choice forwards. “The guys that have come in have made the most of their minutes. We’re in the mentality of next man up.”

Stankoven, in alone shorthanded as the final seconds of the second frame ticked away, shifted to his backhand and lifted a shot over Vikman and into the net, but the horn had already sounded to signal the end of the period.

Vancouver took issue with Stankoven’s late effort — and so did the officiating crew.

The Kamloops product was issued a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, an infraction that gave Vancouver one minute and 47 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time to start the third period.

“I’m not that type of player,” Stankoven said. “It was so loud when I got that breakaway. I see that puck. I’m chasing it down. I’m not looking at the clock. I’m not that type of cheap player to shoot after the horn. The Giants players thought otherwise.”

Fraser Minten, Ethan Brandwood and Quinn Schmiemann put in textbook work on the penalty kill before Giants’ forward Ty Thorpe took a checking to the head penalty, downgrading the power play to a 4-on-3 man advantage.

“And discipline … to take that many penalties, eventually it’s going to come back and bite you,” McCambridge said.

The scoreless third period ended with Thorpe in the penalty box and the Blazers on the power play.

Luke Toporowski, who appeared to suffer a shoulder injury when he crashed into the boards on Friday in Game 1, is 50-50 to return to the Blazers’ lineup on Tuesday, said Clouston.

His inclusion would bring the Blazers back to full strength. The Giants are nowhere near that mark.

“We’re still trying to approach every game as if they had every single guy in their lineup,” Bankier said. “They’re playing really hard these last two games. We’re looking to play just as hard in the two games coming up in Vancouver.”