Of course it ended like it did. This is playoff hockey, folks. What did you expect – Drayson Bowman from the right circle?
Well, that happened, too. Technically, it was the reason that everything else happened.
Certainly no one expected or predicted that it would go down like it did – “it” being rookie Blake Gal’s goal 6 minutes, 5 seconds into the fourth overtime Friday night, the one that gave the Spokane Chiefs their third straight Western Hockey League playoff victory and, more important, a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series with the top-seeded Vancouver Giants.
If you were in Vancouver or glued to the television Friday night – and eventually early Saturday morning – you saw it. If not, this is what happened.
The fifth game of the best-of-7 playoff series – which was tied 2-2 – became not only an instant classic but a game that lasted for 126 minutes and 5 seconds (more than twice the duration of a regulation game, and the second-longest game in league history), finishing at 12:41 a.m., and ended with a goal that gave new meaning to the phrase sudden death.
“There were power-play goals that tied the game up, both penalty kill (units) kinda buckled down and shut other guys down, (Vancouver) hit the post (on a shot), I think we hit a post, both goalies made some real nice saves – you just had a little bit of everything,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said.
“It just got to a point where we were just laughing before that (fourth) overtime period. I mean what are you going to say? Work harder? There’s nothing to say but stick with it, and sure enough we get a break or whatever you want to call it, and it was over.”
The Giants were set up in Spokane’s zone, looking for a pass that would put someone in position to score.
Instead, Stefan Ulmer tried to block a Vancouver shot from the middle of the left circle and swung his stick and successfully poke-checked the puck, knocking it against the right board in front of a forward-facing Gal, who was already in motion. Gal quickly took off with the puck and skated through the neutral zone and down the right shooting lane on a breakaway.
Vancouver’s Mike Berube, who was chasing down Gal, tried to – and almost did – break up the play by lifting Gal’s stick at the last minute.
But what Berube didn’t realize – and didn’t have time do anything about – was that the puck was already on the wrong side of his stick, which straightened the puck’s path toward the net.
The 8,948 fans who stuck around Pacific Coliseum through six full 20-minute periods and six intermissions well after midnight watched in shock as the puck glided past Tyson Sexsmith and across the goal line.
“Mike did everything right, it’s not his fault,” Giants captain Jon Blum, who was on the ice for the goal, told the Vancouver Sun. “He stuck with the guy’s stick and the puck trickled into the net. What can you expect? Seven periods of hockey … it’s going to end on something like that.”
Now the question becomes: How will the Game 5 results affect this series between the past two Memorial Cup champions?
“It’s real huge, I mean our confidence is real high right now and we’re still really excited about a win like that, but they’re not going to lay down for us,” Bowman said. “We have to calm back down quickly and refocus and make sure not to come ahead of ourselves. We haven’t won the series yet.
“I don’t think anyone knows yet what it means in terms of the series. It’s when you look back that you figure it out. I mean, last year there were goals or saves from (Dustin) Tokarski that we look back on and think, ‘Man, if he didn’t do that, we might not have gone on to do what we did.’ ”
Tokarski, the Chiefs’ goalie, made 62 saves Friday, two nights after serving up a 1-0 shutout in Spokane to help Spokane pull even in the series they began by losing two games.
“When (a team only scores two goals), I think he’s doing his job, obviously,” Sauter said. “Quite honestly, he played extremely well after their second goal. … It was just business as usual for him.”
Not quite business as usual for Gal, though. The goal was his first point of the series and first goal of the playoffs.
“He’s probably too young, at this point, to realize the magnitude of what happened, but he’s excited about it and he’s a hard worker that was finally rewarded for his hard work,” Sauter said. “I’m sure as he tells this story for years to come that the goal will get a little bit nicer every time he tells the story.”