The Cowichan Valley Capitals are on their way back to Wenatchee deadlocked with the Wild at two games apiece.
After the teams split the first two games of their best-of-seven Interior Division semifinal in Washington last weekend, they did the same at the Big Stick on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Caps prevailed 5-3 on Tuesday, then lost 4-1 on Wednesday to keep pace with the defending B.C. Hockey League champions and ensure that the series will go at least six games.
Leading 3-0 in the second period on Tuesday, the Caps saw the Wild come back to tie the game, then turned the tables once more to squeak out the win.
“Obviously, you don’t want to see a 3-0 lead evaporate,” Capitals head coach Mike Vandekamp said. “But I think you’re just learning the other team won the league championship last year, so they’re not going to quit at any point. I was pretty proud of the way we greased it out. A greasy home win.”
The Wild scored twice in the latter half of the second period and again midway through the third to tie things at 3-3, but Paul Selleck restored Cowichan’s lead with 6:50 left in regulation, and an empty-netter by Preston Brodziak put the game away, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Interior Division semifinal series.
Brady Lynn, Cole Broadhurst and Niko Esposito-Selivanov also scored for the Caps, while Pierce Diamond stopped 28 of 31 shots in the Cowichan net. Shots were fairly even through the first half of the game, but the Wild ended up outshooting the Caps 31-19 by the final whistle.
This series has a different tone than the Caps’ first-round set against the Penticton Vees, who had trouble with Cowichan’s hard-nosed tactics.
“It’s a little bit more physical,” Vandekamp acknowledged. “It’s a little bit more intense. They play a little bit different style, a little bit more aggressive than Penticton does, so it’s definitely different hockey, for sure.”
The Caps got off to a slow start on Wednesday and never quite recovered. They trailed 1-0 after the opening frame, and got better as the game went on, but the goals just weren’t coming and the game ended in the team’s first home loss of the 2019 postseason.
“I didn’t like our first period,” Vandekamp admitted. “I thought we got a lot of skating legs going the rest of the game, actually.”
The Wild were up 2-0 after two periods before Brady Lynn got the Caps on the board just before the five-minute mark of the third. Niko Esposito-Selivanov, who led Cowichan with 19 goals in the regular season, came close to tying the score not long after, when he was sprung on a breakaway.
“The puck kind of rolled on him and he was unable to bury it,” Vandekamp commented. “I think that was a goal that we desperately needed tonight. It was a tough bounce.”
Wenatchee’s other two goals included an empty-netter after the Caps pulled netminder Pierce Diamond for the extra attacker.
The Wild outshot the Caps 18-7 in the first period, but the rest of the game was fairly even on that front. Diamond finished with 33 saves, while Austin Park made 27 stops for Wenatchee.
“We had our chances,” Vandekamp said. “We’re glad to be in the battle. It’s a tied series; that’s OK. We’ve been saying throughout the playoffs that the odd-numbered games are the most important games in the series, and we’ve won the majority of those odd-numbered games so far in the playoffs. Game five is 48 hours or so from now, and that’s going to be a big game for our team.”
The referees’ whistles were quiet, as a total of seven penalties were handed out in spite of a hard-hitting, emotional game. The Caps went 0-for-1 on the powerplay and the Wild were 0-for-2.
“I think the game has been left to the players to decide,” Vandekamp said. “There’s times when you wish you could get a call, but there’s times, I’m sure, when they wish they could get a call too. There’s a fine balance the refs have to go with, but I think they did a good job.”
The teams will head to Wenatchee for game five on Friday, and game six will take place back at the Big Stick on Sunday at 7:05 p.m. If a seventh game is necessary, it will go in Wenatchee next Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of series left to play,” Vandekamp said. “We know we’re going at least six right now, so we’re going to grind it out, and we have to do it the hard way now.”