It was an overnight bus trip the Prince George Spruce Kings were thrilled to take.
The Spruce Kings made the journey to the Lower Mainland necessary when they beat the Chilliwack Chiefs 5-2 Tuesday at the Coliseum and tied their best-of-five Mainland Division semifinal at two games apiece. The deciding game in the opening-round B.C. Hockey League playoff series will be held tonight at Chilliwack's Prospera Centre.
Facing elimination on Tuesday, the Kings came up with an inspired effort in front of 1,092 fans. The home team pulled a page out of the Chiefs' playbook by scoring in the opening moments of both the first and second periods and got an eventual game-winner from Shane Morrissey midway through the middle frame.
Both goaltenders -- Kirk Thompson for the Spruce Kings and Mitch Gillam for the Chiefs -- were spectacular in the contest but Gillam couldn't stop Morrissey on the shot that made the difference. Morrissey scored his first goal of the series -- and picked up his first point -- when he found twine with a perfect shot from the right circle after the Kings had been foiled on a rush. His marker put Prince George ahead 3-1 at the 12:25 mark.
The Kings spent long stretches of time in their own zone in the third period and were outshot 19-7 as the Chiefs fought to dig out of their two-goal deficit. Chilliwack drew to within one of Prince George, down 3-2, when rookie phenom Philip Zielonka scored his second of the game on a power play. But, the Kings -- with Thompson making some heroic saves -- withstood tremendous pressure the rest of the way and got empty-net goals from Coltyn Hansen and Morrissey to seal the deal.
The teams were tied 1-1 after the first period and the Kings were ahead 3-1 after the second.
In the middle period, Hansen and Morrissey gave the Kings their two-goal bulge. Hansen scored his fourth goal of the series with a low shot off the left wing after he hit the Chilliwack zone at full speed. The play started with a quick pass up-ice by defenceman Mitch Eden. The goal came just 23 seconds into the period.
The Spruce Kings desperately needed a strong start and they got one when captain Trevor Esau hammered home a one-time slapshot from the left point after a clean face-off win by David Stephens. Esau's blast caught the top right corner of the net, over the glove of Gillam, and gave Prince George a 1-0 lead 28 seconds into the game.
The Chiefs got an equalizer at the 10:46 of the first period while on a power play. After Hansen failed to clear the zone against Alex Perron-Fontaine, the Chilliwack defender fed the puck to Zielonka in the high slot and he quickly snapped a shot past Thompson.
The Spruce Kings had a great chance to move into a 2-1 lead in the final seconds of the opening period but Gillam, a first-team all-star in the BCHL this season, thwarted Morrissey on an odd-man rush. Gillam got his blocker on a shot that was heading for the top left corner.
Overall, the Chiefs outshot the Kings 42-29.
The Spruce Kings won Game 1 of the series, played last Friday in Chilliwack, 3-1. The Chiefs bounced back in a big way with a 10-1 thumping of Prince George the next night. Chilliwack then took a 2-1 series lead thanks to a 5-3 decision Monday at the Coliseum.
The winner of tonight's game will move on to face the Surrey Eagles in the next round. The Eagles eliminated the Langley Rivermen with a 6-3 win on Tuesday.