VICTORIA, British Columbia – The Victoria Royals expect Patrik Polivka to play great in goal and Travis Brown to provide great defense in front of him.
Polivka held up his end of the bargain and Brown did his best and more as the Royals struck first in their Western Hockey League first-round playoff series against the Spokane Chiefs.
Polivka made 26 saves in his duel with Spokane’s Eric Williams and Brown scored the winner in overtime Saturday night as the Royals took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 2-1 win at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
Game 2 is tonight in Victoria before the series shifts to Spokane for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday.
Williams and Polivka made spectacular saves all game, but Spokane’s 20-year-old netminder, who had 31 saves, couldn’t stop Brown’s shot 8 minutes and 10 seconds into the extra frame.
“I just think that’s kind of been my game,” Brown said. “I just try to pick my spots … making sure it’s defense first, but if you see an opportunity there, make sure to go get them.”
The Chiefs had their chances in OT, but Polivka, who teams with Coleman Vollrath on the best 1-2 punch in the league, withstood the challenge.
“It could have gone either way,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “Just before they scored, we had their goalie down and out with the puck right there and we couldn’t get it in the net.”
Polivka was at his best during Spokane’s power-play chances, stopping all five.
On the Chiefs’ fifth opportunity, late in the second period with the Royals holding a 1-0 edge, Polivka stopped, in succession, shots by Mitch Holmberg, Adam Helewka and Reid Gow.
“They have a very good power play and they’re a very skilled and talented team, so we have to do a better job of staying out of the box,” Brown said. “But I’m just glad we could get some kills when we needed them.”
“We’re overthinking it, taking too long and we’re slow,” Nachbaur said of the power plays. “This is the playoffs and the guys have to … be a little quicker.”
Ben Walker’s rebound goal at 15:26 of the first period gave the Royals a 1-0 edge.
The advantage held up until Spokane’s Riley Whittingham jammed the puck past Povlika at the short side for a 1-all tie with 17:38 left. Cole Wedman and Jacob Cardiff assisted on the play.
The Chiefs’ big scorers were held in check.
“Our best line didn’t get any scoring opportunities other than maybe one or two shots,” Nachbaur said. “We have to do more if we’re going to win this series.”
The Chiefs also suffered a blow when Keanu Yamamoto left with an upper-body injury in the second period. Nachbaur said he didn’t know the extent of the injury.
“We just stuck to our game plan,” Nachbaur said. “It was pretty simple, but I thought our guys were pretty effective. … At times I thought we were really good. One-one in overtime, I can’t ask for much more.
“I’m proud of the guys for how we battled and competed. We lost Yamamoto (upper body) and we were down in numbers early in the second period. We scored a playoff goal. We got a puck to the net and we banged in the rebound. I don’t think our best guys were at their best. Maybe they got a little frustrated, but I’m proud of our effort.”