The effort was there, they outshot their opponents and created the lion’s share of the best scoring chances.
Heck, even the power play connected for the Prince George Cougars.
But it still wasn’t quite enough to defeat Bowen Byram and the Vancouver Giants, who rolled to their second-straight win over Cougars, hanging on for a 3-2 victory Saturday at CN Centre.
Just as they did in Friday’s 3-0 win over the Cougars, the Giants totally changed the complexion of the game with three consecutive goals, all in the second period.
Milos Roman, Parker Hendren and Byram, with his second of the season, gave the Giants what they needed in the offensive end. Then they leaned on goalie Trent Miner to do the rest, posting their sixth win in seven games to start the season.
Byram, the Giants highly-touted defenceman, ranked by NHL Central Scouting as a potential top-10 pick in next year’s draft, took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play early in the period to score the goal that erased a 1-0 deficit.
He gained the puck deep in the Cougars’ end and went post-to-post with his pass to a waiting Milos Roman. That came with Josh Maser out of the game after being assessed a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for slewfooting Giants’ centre Justin Sourdif against the side boards. Austin Crossley, while killing the penalty, lost his helmet and as he skated to the Cougar bench he got involved in the play and was sent off. Roman’s goal came at 3:31 came 22 seconds into the two-minute, two-man advantage.
Parker Hendren’s onetimer from the point made it a 2-1 game for the Giants, set up on the point by rookie winger Lukas Svejkovsky, who got the rebound of his own wraparound attempt. That came at the 10:20 mark.
Near the end of the period, the 17-year-old Byram took matters into his own hands to pad the lead. He skated in with the puck and left three Cougars in his wake waving their sticks and he scored on a backhand deke on goalie Isaiah DiLaura, playing his first game of the season.
“We definitely needed a better game after a tough one (Friday) –we came away with two points but we weren’t totally happy with that, so I was confident the team would bounced back tonight and I think we did,” said Byram.
“We worked hard and maybe were undisciplined at times but we got six points on our roadtrip so we’re going home happy. Our goalie Trent stood on his head and played well all night. The Cougars definitely had a push at the end and we were able to hold them off and get the win.”
The Cougars got the spark they were looking for to start a dominant third period and it came from an unusual source – their beleaguered power play. Defenceman Joel Lakusta connected for his second of the game to draw the Cougars to within a goal, trailing 3-2 with almost 16 minutes left. That was only their second power-play goal in 32 chances this season and it seemed to put a surge of energy into the team. They answered right away with two dangerous shots on net from Jackson Leppard and Vladislav Mikhalchuk that Miner calmly turned aside. He made 33 saves as his team was outshot 35-28.
“I think we pretty much played 55 minutes out of 60 in this game but that five minutes off, that’s all it takes to lose it,” said Lakusta.
“As a team we’re gelling a lot better than we were the first game and in the six or seven games we’ve had so far we’ve come a long way. Our power play wasn’t where it needs to be and this game we got another goal. It’s tough, we worked on it all week in practice, we’re just not getting the finish but it’s coming.”
The Cats’ power play ended up 1-for-7, while the Giants hit on one of their three power-play chances.
While outshooting the Giants 15-10 in the final frame, the Cougars’ best chance to tie it came while killing a penalty with 5:28 left. Tyson Upper stripped the puck away from James Malm at the Giants’ blueline and broke in alone, lifting a shot that hit the crossbar and dropped down just outside the goalline. The goal light came on but the play was reviewed and it was ruled no goal.
Jackson Leppard had a great chance in the dying seconds with DiLaura on the bench - a point-blank shot that Miner saved with his shoulder and caught with his glove. They didn’t get the bounces they needed and consequently suffered their third-straight loss, dropping to 2-4-0-1.
“We came pretty close, I thought we were working hard there in the third, a couple lucky bounces and I’m sure it’s going to go our way next time,” said Leppard, still looking for his first goal after seven games. “We stuck with it pretty well in the third and we were battling our hardest to get that goal to tie it up but it obviously didn’t work.”
Vancouver (6-1-0-0), remained tied with the Victoria Royals atop the B.C. Division, each with 12 points, seven ahead of the third-place Cougars.
The Cougars led 1-0 after one period, ending a lengthy goalless drought, a 106-minute stretch that started in the second period of their loss to Kelowna a week ago. Josh Maser got it going in the final minute of the period with shot off Miner’s chest protector. The puck ended up in the corner for Mikhalchuk, who spotted Lakusta cruising into the deep slot and he let go a fluttering shot that had just enough steam to get past Miner’s blocker into the net.
DiLaura, 18, looked comfortable in his first start and made some early saves that gave him some confidence. It was his first game with the Cougars since March 16, in Kamloops.
“He was awesome back there, he hadn’t played a regular season game in a long time so to get in there for the first one and do as well as he did, I’m proud of him,” said Leppard. “He held us in there and gave us all the chances he could.”
LOOSE PUCKS: Cougars winger Reid Perepeluk served a one-game suspension Saturday for his hit into the end boards on Giants defenceman Ty Ettinger near the end of the Game Friday. Ettinger fell just as Perepeluk came in for the hit and was slow to get up but was not seriously injured. Perepeluk was handed a charging major and game misconduct… The Cougars head for Alberta next week for games in Medicine Hat on Friday, Lethbridge on Saturday and Kootenay on Sunday afternoon. They return to CN Centre on Oct. 21, a Sunday matinee against the defending-champion Swift Current Broncos… Just 2,393 showed up to watch at CN Centre Saturday, among the lowest crowd counts of the weekend in the WHL… The Victoria Royals (6-0-0-0) are the only unbeaten team left in the WHL. Former Cariboo Cougars goalie Griffen Outhouse stopped 26 of 27 Kamloops Blazers shots to preserve a 2-1 win Saturday in Kamloops.
Saturday’s WHL summary
Giants 3 at Cougars 2
1. Prince George, Lakusta 1 (Mikhalchuk, Maser) 19:12
Penalties – McNabb VAN (slashing), Toman PG (slashing) 3:24.
2. Vancouver, Roman 1 (Byram, Malm) 3:31 (pp)
3. Vancouver, Hendren 1 (Svejkovsky) 10:20
4. Vancouver, Byram 2 (Watts, Kannok-Leipert) 19:22
Penalties – Maser PG (slewfooting major, served by Kohner, game misconduct) 0:11, Crossley PG (playing without helmet) 3:09, McNabb VAN (charging) 7:01, Kannok-Leipert VAN (double slewfooting) 12:06, Holt VAN (slashing) 16:18.
5. Prince George, Lakusta 2 (Browne, Schoettler) 4:09 (pp)
Penalties – Ettinger VAN (high-sticking) 3:24, Bulych VAN (tripping) 10:17, Plouffe VAN (roughing), Ettinger VAN (misconduct), MacLean PG (roughing), Mikhalchuk PG (misconduct) 11:10.
Shots on goal by
Vancouver 8 10 10 -28
Prince George 9 11 16 -35
Goal – Vancouver, Miner (W,2-0-0-0); Prince George, DiLaura (L,0-1-0-0)
Power plays – VAN: 1-3; PG: 1-5.
Referees – Kyle Kowalski, Colin Watt; Linesmen – Nick Albinati, Josh Albinati.
Attendance – 2,393.
Scratches – Vancouver: D Bailey Dhaliwal (upper body, one month), RW Tyler Ho (healthy), D Matt Barbaris (upper body, indefinite), D Joel Sexsmith (upper body, day-to-day), LW Hunor Torzsok (healthy); Prince George: C Brendan Boyle (healthy) RW Reid Perepeluk (served one-game suspension), C Max Kryski (healthy), D Cam MacPhee (upper body, indefinite).