Games three and four have been marked by the return of key players spurring their respective teams on to victory.
In game three, David Tendeck got the start and made 35 saves in a 5-1 Vancouver Giants victory.
On Thursday, the Victoria Royals saw the return of Tyler Soy to the line-up, the team’s second leading scorer during the regular season.
Soy responded with a hat trick in the Royals’ 7-3 victory at the Langley Events Centre, which evened the WHL quarter-final series at two games apiece.
And now it’s the Giants turn to get back a pair of key players.
When the puck drops on game five in Victoria on Saturday night, defencemen Darian Skeoch and Matt Barberis are eligible to return from the respective suspensions.
Skeoch has played just 75 seconds in the series before he picked up a game misconduct and three-game suspension in game one for a check to the head. Barberis missed game four after taking a five-minute major in game three and getting a subsequent one-game ban from the league.
Without the pair, Vancouver’s top four on the blue-line consisted of a 20-year-old, a 16-year-old and two 17-year-olds against one of the league’s most potent offences.
“They hung in there and gave us everything. I don’t question their effort .. but when you add a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old with their experience, there is going to be a big difference,” said Giants coach Jason McKee about the impending return of the veteran duo.
But in game four, it was clear who was the better team on the ice.
“It’s too bad everyone had their ‘C’ game tonight all at once. We didn’t play well,” McKee said. “All night, we couldn’t get any traction.”
With their opponent missing two key players — and with one of their own big guns making his series debut — the Royals made the Giants pay in Thursday’s contest at the Langley Events Centre.
Soy (three goals), Dante Hannoun (one goal, four assists) and Matthew Phillips (one goal, three assist) were unstoppable, combining for a dozen points in the victory.
The only down side for the visitors was when Soy left the game in the third period after taking coincidental roughing penalties with Giants captain Tyler Benson.
Soy — who set the Royals franchise record for career post-season goals (17) and tied the team mark for points (31) — was named the game’s first star, but he did not skate onto the ice. He was also unavailable post-game while getting treatment.
“(Soy’s) a really stabilizing force and stabilizing factor on the team,” said Victoria coach Dan Price about the centre’s effect in the locker room.
“He’s really level, he’s really calm. He competes really hard but he’s level, he’s balanced.”
Phillips opened the scoring 7:18 in, sniping a shot off the rush. Six minutes later, the Giants turned the puck over behind their own goal and on the ensuing possession, Ralph Jarratt’s point shot with traffic in front, beat Tendeck.
And then before the period let out, Soy scored on a two-man advantage.
“We just seemed a little sluggish for whatever reason. We didn’t have a lot of zip to our game,” McKee said about the opening 20 minutes.
The second period saw the Giants get back into the contest with a pair of goals.
The first was a shot from Dylan Plouffe in the slot on a power play and then Davis Koch beat Griffen Outhouse on a delayed penalty, taking a pass from Benson and scoring on a two-on-one down low while getting hooked.
Hannoun made it 4-2 off a scramble and on the ensuing face-off, Milos Roman was whistled for high-sticking, and Soy scored on the man advantage.
Despite that, the Giants received a great opportunity in the final minute when two Royals were whistled for separate infractions, giving Vancouver a full two-minute two-man advantage.
Vancouver pressured and had their chances, but Outhouse and the Royals came up with the kill.
“I thought the guys did a great job getting in the way of pucks, with sticks and bodies,” Price said.
“Obviously Griff was excellent during that whole stretch, very competitive as well.
“I thought Griff really competed, he was tracking down loose pucks, doing everything he could to get in front of them.”
Soy finished off a pretty passing play for his hat trick and Jeff de Wit made it 6-2, hammering home a point shot for the Royals’ third power-play goal.
Jared Dymytriw scored a late goal for the Giants for the 7-3 final score.
“It is unacceptable for the way we came out tonight. We should have been ready to go and we weren’t,” he said.
“We have to use this as a learning experience. Consistency is key throughout the playoffs and we didn’t have our ‘A’ game tonight at all and it was evident right from puck drop.”
The teams now prepare for game five in Victoria and then game six back at the LEC on Easter Monday, with a 2 p.m. puck drop.
“No one thought the series was going to be a short one. We are 2-2 heading back, it’s a best of three,” McKee said.
“I told the guys tonight, the outcome of tonight has no effect on the next game. Whether it is a win or a loss, there is no carry over and we have to be prepared for Saturday night.”