It was a great start – they scored on their first shot – but a similar result as the past three weeks: another loss for the Vancouver Giants.
Mazden Leslie opened the scoring 87 seconds into Friday night’s contest, but the Portland Winterhawks would score seven of the next eight goals to win 7-2 in Western Hockey League action, handing the struggling Giants a seventh consecutive loss.
Magic Maz puts the G-Men up early! pic.twitter.com/X6qonX5X5F
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) April 9, 2022
It was Portland’s first win in four tries this season against Vancouver.
“The first five minutes were good and then it went downhill from there. The game plan that we drew up. We wanted to get pucks deep, we wanted to apply our forecheck, we wanted to check tonight and for the first five minutes it looked really good,” said Vancouver coach Michael Dyck.
After Leslie opened the scoring, Vancouver nearly made it 2-0 when a shot on a delayed penalty call three minutes later hit the inside of the post but bounced out. The Giants were unable to cash in on the power play – a recurring theme on the night as they went 0-for-4 and have now gone scoreless with the man advantage in their last 17 opportunities.
“It is a common thread, a trend all year long: when it doesn’t work … they don’t stick together, they don’t stick with what they know, and they don’t rely on what got them here,” Dyck said.
“It is trust in each other, trust in what we do as a team and trust in themselves, and they lose it awfully quickly. And it has been happening all year long.”
The loss leaves the Giants with a 23-35-4-0 record and 50 points, which places them in seventh spot in the WHL’s Western Conference playoff race.
The Spokane Chiefs sit in sixth with 51 points while the Victoria Royals have 50 points and the Prince George Cougars are currently on the outside looking in with 49 points in ninth spot. Vancouver has five games remaining while the other three clubs each have a trio of games to play with Spokane and Victoria going head-to-head in two of those contests and the Royals also facing Prince George in their other game.
The Winterhawks would take the game over in the second half of the opening frame with Marcus Nguyen and Gabe Klassen scoring less than two minutes apart and then Tyson Kozak making it 3-1 35 seconds into the middle stanza.
Oh Captain, My Captain!! Ostapchuk cuts the deficit to one. pic.twitter.com/fnimthFjJP
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) April 9, 2022
Zack Ostapchuk did cut the lead back to one, but Jack O’Brien scored to close the period and then 6:08 into the third for the 5-2 lead. Cross Hanas and Kyle Chyzowksi later tacked on two more goals for the Winterhawks, who outshot the Giants 48-23.
The Giants are now off to Kelowna for a two-game set with the Rockets on Saturday and Sunday, still in control of their own post-season fate.
Dyck said it is just a matter of the team sticking to the game plan and not splintering when things don’t go as planned.
“When we play connected, and keep things simple, and stick to a game plan, we are a pretty good team, we give ourselves a chance to succeed. For whatever reason, they just won’t do it. They abandon it; it is a sense of panic; a sense of individuality and they go off in five different directions,” he said.
Will Gurksi made 41 saves in goal for Vancouver while Taylor Gauthier stopped 21 of 23 shots for Portland.
The teams did combine for 97 penalty minutes in the final minute following a knee-on-knee hit delivered by Kurtis Smythe on Vancouver’s Colton Langkow, which resulted in a kneeing major, six fighting majors and six game misconducts.
With Portland currently sitting in third place and the Giants able to finish anywhere from sixth to ninth, the two teams could meet in the opening round of the WHL playoffs if Vancouver finished sixth.
Following the two-game road trip to Kelowna (first game tonight), the Giants are back at home on Wednesday, April 13 (7 p.m.) against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
BY THE NUMBERS
VAN – 1:27 into the game, Mazden Leslie (4) opened the scoring for the Giants with a shot from the right-wing circle that snuck past Taylor Gauthier. Fabian Lysell and Kaden Kohle each had assists.
POR – Portland’s first goal of the night came from Marcus Nguyen off a three-way passing play involving Cross Hanas and Ryan McCleary. Nguyen’s 20th goal came at 13:30.
POR – A minute and 38 seconds later Gabe Klassen (33) snuck a James Stefan rebound past Will Gurski from the slot. Jadon Dureau had the second assist.
Shots: 16-5 Portland
POR – 35 seconds into the middle frame, Tyson Kozak finished off a Cross Hanas feed for his 32nd of the season. Clay Hanus secured the second assist on the 3-1 goal for Portland.
VAN – The final Giants goal of the night came from Zack Ostapchuk at 10:26 during four-on-four play. Fabian Lysell notched his second assist of the night as the Giants captain reached the 20-goal mark.
POR – With 1:49 left in the second, Jack O’Brien restored the Portland lead with his 12th of the season off a wrap-around. Marek Alscher had the lone helper.
Shots: 19-11 Portland
POR – Jack O’Brien’s (13) second goal of the night came off a Marcus Nguyen rebound at 6:08.
POR – Cross Hanas (25) made it 6-2 on an unassisted effort at 10:45.
POR – Kyle Chyzowski (12) supplied the final goal of the night for Portland at 13:16 when he finished off a Kurtis Smythe rebound.
Shots: 13-7 Portland
Final score: Portland 7 – Vancouver 2
Final shots: 48-23 Portland
Will Gurski: 41/48 saves for Vancouver
Taylor Gauthier: 21/23 saves for Portland
Vancouver power play: 0/4
Portland power play: 0/1
3 Stars: 1) Jack O’Brien (POR – 2G); 2) Fabian Lysell (VAN – 2A); and 3) Cross Hanas (POR – 1G, 2A)
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