VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Vancouver Giants took the first game of the Western Hockey League Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Spokane Chiefs on Friday, but also took notice of the stellar goaltending of Dustin Tokarski.
The Giants edged the Chiefs 3-1 in the opening game of the second round of the playoffs, with Tokarski stopping 36 of the 38 shots directed his way in the game.
Tokarski, the goaltender who led Team Canada to a gold medal win at the World Junior Championships earlier this year, made several key saves off several Vancouver opportunities.
“He definitely played good,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “I thought the first half of the first period that (Vancouver goalie Tyson) Sexsmith made some saves on us and I thought our goaltender definitely gave us a chance to win.”
The Chiefs took the play to the Giants in the opening period, holding a 4-1 advantage in shots on goal in the first 6 minutes. Less than 4 minutes into the game, Mitch Wahl set up Tyler Johnson from behind the net. Johnson fired a point-blank shot and Sexsmith made a solid pad save to keep the Chiefs off the scoreboard.
Sauter said his team wanted to come out and take the game to the Giants right out of the gate.
“We just wanted to stay on our toes,” Sauter said. “We definitely felt a good start was in our best interests.”
The Giants stormed back and held a 13-9 shot lead after the first 20 minutes and held a 26-15 shot lead after two periods. The Chiefs were outshot 38-19 in the game.
“They came at us hard tonight and they outplayed us and outworked us and they got the win,” Tokarski said. “We had under 20 shots. We’re going to have to bring more to the table to compete more. We have to outwork them and have more drive to get to the net. We just didn’t have enough pucks on the net.”
The Giants drew first blood in the game when Mike Piluso tapped a cross-crease pass past Tokarski at 16:56 of the first period for the only marker of the frame. The teams played a physical, but scoreless, second period.
Wahl was finally able to solve Sexsmith with a power-play goal at 4:44 of the third period. Wahl’s second goal of the playoffs came when his pass attempt from behind the Giants’ goal bounced off Vancouver defenseman Mike Berube’s foot.
The Giants regained a one-goal lead at 6:40 of the third period on the power play when Gary Nunn tipped a Jonathon Blum point shot past Tokarski.
The Giants iced the win with an empty-net goal with 43.9 seconds remaining in the third period. Sauter pulled Tokarski with 1:23 left in the third period for an extra skater.
Giants forward Craig Cunningham corralled the puck inside his blue line and fired it through two Chiefs defenders and somehow the puck slid into the empty net to give the Giants the 3-1 victory.
“We’re happy with a lot of things we did in Game 1, but obviously we’re not happy with the result,” Sauter said.
Spokane earned its way to the second round of the playoffs with a 4-1 opening-round series victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Giants defeated the Prince George Cougars 4-0.
The teams square off for Game 2 tonight in Vancouver.
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