The Peninsula Panthers are one win away from facing the Victoria Cougars in the semifinal of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) after beating the Westshore Wolves 4-3 in double-overtime Wednesday.
When Tanner Wort scored an unassisted goal early in the second overtime to break a 3-3 tie, he gave the Panthers a 3-1 series lead and a chance to clinch the playoff series on home ice Friday night, with the puck dropping 7:30 p.m. at the Panorama Recreation Centre.
“[Wort]’s goal is the biggest of the season for our club,” said Pete Zubersky, general manager. “That goal meant a two-game swing. If they [the Wolves] score it’s 2-2 in the series and game on. But we are up 3-1 and have a chance to close out the series at home Friday night. I know our barn will be juiced for Friday.”
Wednesday’s Game 4 played in Colwood’s The Q Centre was perhaps the most back-and-forth game of the series. After a sluggish start, the Panthers led by two goals halfway through the second period, when mistakes opened the door for the Wolves to get back into the game.
The momentum started to shift when a needless icing precipitated a face-off in the Panthers’ zone, with the Wolves gaining possession and converting to cut the Panthers’ lead into half. They then tied the game in the third period, only to see the Panthers regain the lead with less than four minutes left in the third period. But the Wolves showed resilience and tied the game on a powerplay with less than two minutes left after the Panthers had taken some needless risks.
The Panthers, however, then responded with a large dose of grit themselves during what Zubersky described as a “frantic” first overtime period during which Panthers’ Stefan Grunert conceded a five-minute major penalty with four minutes left. But the Wolves failed to capitalize. In fact, the Panthers scored the winning goal shortly after they had killed off the final minute of the powerplay early in the second overtime period.
The goal itself came about when the Wolves coughed up the puck into the neutral zone after Panthers’ forward Riley Braun had hurried a defender. Logan Speirs picked it up, wheeling through the neutral zone, before feeding the Panthers’ top scorer and league MVP Wort on the left side, where Wort made a cute toedrag but lost the puck temporarily before regaining control and snapping it towards the Wolves’ net.
“It rang off the right post and into the back of the net and our guys went nuts,” said Zubersky.
Wednesday’s victory was the first road victory for either team and no small feat for the Panthers, who had been struggling against the Wolves on the road.
“The Q Centre is a hard place to win,” said Zubersky. “There is no atmosphere and they have a huge advantage having played there all season long. But our guys brought our own energy [Wednesday night]. After giving up the equalizer with under two minutes left and then having to kill off a five-minute major in [over-time] really brought out the best in our club.”
The winner of the series will face the Victoria Cougars, who swept the Saanich Braves Tuesday with a 4-1 victory.
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