Size matters as the Prince George Spruce Kings have discovered.
The Spruce Kings are on the verge of elimination in their B.C. Hockey League divisional semifinal series against a bigger Chilliwack Chiefs team that has used its size to optimum advantage to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five playoff match up between the Mainland division rivals.
Philip Zielonka led the visitors at the Prince George Coliseum with two goals and an assist as the Chiefs won 5-3 in front of 1,292 fans. The Chiefs (33-21-1-1) beat the Spruce Kings (25-22-1-8) 10-1 on Saturday after dropping the playoff opener 3-1 the night before.
Spruce Kings goalie Kirk Thompson had virtually no chance on the first three Chiefs goals in the opening period, but it appeared a miscommunication with captain Trevor Esau led to the fourth goal early in the second period.
Just like Saturday the Chiefs came out flying against an unprepared Spruce Kings group, scoring in the first minute of the first and second periods and 62 seconds into the third.
"We're coming out tentative, almost scared to make a mistake," said Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas. "Once we get through the first 10 minutes of the game we're OK but our starts have got to get better."
The Spruce Kings won the special teams battle scoring a power-play goal and killing off six minor penalties of their own.
It didnt take long for the Chiefs to find the twine behind Thompson as Zielonka potted his third of the playoffs 20 seconds after the opening face-off to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Before the game was five minutes old Josh Hansen extended the Chiefs advantage with his second of the playoffs, making it 2-0.
The Chiefs went up 3-0 when Zielonka roofed the puck from pointblank range over Thompsons shoulder for his second of the game. Chilliwack out shot Prince George 13-4 in the first period. But the Spruce Kings best chance wasnt recorded on the shot clock as they rang the puck off the post with less than three minutes to play in the period.
It was 4-0 less than a minute into the second period as Zielonka picked up his third point when Mathieu Tibbet slid the puck past Thompson.
The Spruce Kings finally beat Chiefs goalie Mitch Gillam late in the middle frame when Coltyn Hansen notched his third goal of the playoffs during a two-man advantage.
Dupas said Gillam didn't look like the top goaltender in the BCHL with the way he played Monday.
"He wasn't on his game tonight and we didn't take advantage of it," said Dupas.
Luke Esposito restored the Chiefs four-goal lead early in the third frame when he was the recipient of a gift in the slot from Spruce Kings forward Sean Landrey to make it 5-1.
But the Spruce Kings fought back as Esau and Jake LeBrun each recorded their first goals of the playoffs to pull the home side to 5-3.
The Spruce Kings pulled Thompson but couldnt get the equalizer and may have lost defenceman Mitch Eden who appeared to be in considerable pain favouring his left arm when he left ice at the end of the game.
Dupas said the doctors were evaluating Eden after the game and also added that defenceman Karan Toor was a bit "nicked up" and didn't see action in the final 10 minutes of the game.
If the Spruce Kings cant find a way to solve the Chiefs tonight itll be the final game in the careers of 20-year-old players Thompson, Hansen, Esau and Shayne Morrissey.
Chilliwack has won all five games in Prince George this season, including four regular-season contests where they outscored the Spruce Kings 17-4.
The two teams tangle again tonight, 7 p.m., at the Coliseum as the Spruce Kings try to fend off elimination and force a Game 5 in Chilliwack on Wednesday.