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Special teams spark Vancouver Giants, while inferior Kamloops Blazers' power play sputters in defeat

Statistics do not properly indicate how disjointed the Kamloops Blazers have been on the power play in the post-season.
Kamloops Blazers' goaltender Dylan Garand sprawls in an effort to deny Kyle Bochek of the Vancouver Giants on Tuesday at Langley Events Centre.

Statistics do not properly indicate how disjointed the Kamloops Blazers have been on the power play in the post-season.

And one number — 39 — goes a long way in telling the story of how the Vancouver Giants forced their way back into a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series on Tuesday at Langley Events Centre with a 3-2 win.

The Giants needed only 39 seconds of power play time to score two goals and reinforce belief in a group that clicked at 37.5 per cent in an astounding upset of the No. 1 seed Everett Silvertips in Round 1, but was 0-for-8 in the first two games of this series, a pair of losses last weekend in Kamloops.

“It was huge,” Giants’ head coach Michael Dyck said. “We generate two of the three goals on the power play and it obviously gave us not only momentum, but it created offence for us.”

Also creating momentum for the Giants was the Blazers’ incoherent power play, which was 1-for-6 on Tuesday and is 9-for-44 in the playoffs, clicking at 20.4 percent.

Those are the numbers that are misleading.

Individual efforts and puck luck have been responsible for some of those power-play goals, a smokescreen that hides problems with zone exits, zone entries and decisiveness when set up in the offensive zone.

“Our power play lost us a lot of momentum,” Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston said. “You don’t have to score all the time, but I just thought we got really out of sync and I think there was some frustration there, so I think that showed.”

Game 4 will get underway at 7 p.m. on Thursday at LEC.

“It’s a new season now,” said Giants’ forward Ty Thorpe, who was among standouts for the home team on Tuesday. “We’re resilient. We’ve handled adversity pretty much the entire year. There is no quit in us. We’ve got belief in that room that we can do it. It’s the most important thing.”

Vancouver goaltender Jesper Vikman showed up to play in the first period and saved his best work for WHL player of the year candidate Logan Stankoven, who was foiled in close on two occasions by the Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect.

One of those saves preceded the first goal of the game, the stop sparking a rush up ice that finished in a Justin Lies goal, his first of the post-season, a post-and-in effort.

“Nothing was really clicking for us,” said Stankoven, who did not reach the scoresheet on Tuesday. “Their goaltender played really well. I think we just need to be better Thursday night, myself included. I didn’t play very well.”

Vikman stopped 34 shots in a first-star performance. Blazers’ netminder Dylan Garand stopped 29 shots in his first defeat of the playoffs.

Giants’ associate coach Keith McCambridge told KTW after Game 2 that his club’s indiscipline has been costly.

Vancouver took four penalties in the second stanza on Tuesday, including a bench minor that expired seconds before Kamloops forward Fraser Minten tied the game at 1-1, inching toward goal before sniping from the top of the circle.

“We’re putting too much pressure on our kill,” Dyck said. “We’re taking a lot of penalties right now.”

In a showdown of NHL prospects, Boston Bruins’ first-round pick Fabian Lysell was thwarted on a shorthanded breakaway by Garand, whose patience allowed him to stick with the Swede and make an incredible left-pad save.

Thorpe, who was among the indisciplined Giants in Game 2, ended Vancouver’s power-play woes at 15:55 of the second period, shovelling home a rebound that resulted from a Lysell shot, the goal coming 30 seconds after Ethan Brandwood was called for hooking.

“The No. 1 thing was our physicality,” Thorpe said. “That’s something we’ve got to stick with. That’s what we did in the Everett series. When we key on their top guys, I think we’re able to push them out of the game.”

Does the series have typical post-season heat yet, the type of acrimony expected from a B.C. Division clash that will produce a conference finalist?

“It’s coming,” Dyck said. “I certainly felt it tonight. I think it’s been building every game.”

Added Clouston: “We showed some extra intensity, a little more jump, in the third period, especially with the goalie pulled, but, I mean, we need that a little more often.”

Thorpe found himself back in the penalty box less than three minutes after his goal, but his teammates bailed him out and Kamloops dropped to 0-for-5 on the power play.

“I thought Group 1 was trying to do too much,” Clouston said when asked to pinpoint what is plaguing the power play. “Group 2 looked a little bit simpler and more direct.”

Drew Englot’s power-play marker, which tied the game at 2-2 at 8:38 of the third period, was of the rudimentary variety — big forward from Candiac, Sask., sets up shop in front of goaltender and tips in point shot.

Mats Lindgren picked up the assist.

Blazers’ forward Connor Levis was called for high-sticking at 16:27.

Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Alex Cotton teed off on a one-timer feed from Lysell nine seconds later, breathing life into his club with a howitzer that blew past Garand.

“Unless you have that vision and that belief, you really don’t have anything to play for,” Dyck said. “It’s everything. Without that, [you’re] basically paint on the target.”

Sombre Blazers stretched outside of their dressing room after the game, some still wondering how the puck stayed out of the Giants’ net with less than four seconds on the clock in the third period.

Garand was on the bench and an extra attacker was on the ice when the Vancouver crease turned simultaneously into a rugby pitch and a swim meet, with a mass of humanity scrumming above Connor Horning, the Giants’ defenceman-turned-Dominik Hasek who breaststroked, backstroked and butterflied as if he was six kilometres away at Al Anderson Memorial Pool, using his flippers to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

After a lengthy review, officials confirmed no goal had been scored, sparking a riotous cheer from the 3,336 in attendance.

“Some controversy at the end there, with whether or not the puck crossed the line, but I think we just need to be better Thursday night,” Stankoven said.

The Blazers will practise on Wednesday. Expect them to work on the power play.

“We’ve got to do the right thing, get some rest and turn the page,” Clouston said. “It’s the playoffs. There’s no time to pout about things.”