Cougars – Royals Game 5 Preview
Despite the fact that the Prince George Cougars have technically been playing ‘must win’ hockey since February, tonight marks the first official occasion in 2014-15 where the Prince George Cougars MUST WIN in order to keep their season alive. Tonight in Victoria, the Cougars and the Royals will take the ice for Game 5 of their first round series with the Royals holding a three games to one lead over the Cougars. After the Royals took both games at home last weekend, the two teams split their games at the CN Centre earlier this week. Desperation seems to bring out the best in this Cougars team, and tonight desperation is the name of the game if the Cougars want to keep their season going.
Dave Lowry’s Victoria Royals bounced back from a tough Game 3 in Prince George Wednesday with their best game of the series on Thursday. The Royals scored once in the second and twice in the third, and goaltender Coleman Vollrath did the rest stopping all 24 shots he faced to help the Royals take Game 4 by a 3-0 count. A win tonight would help the Royals advance to the second round of the WHL playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Who’s Up Front:
After being silenced in Game 3, Victoria’s top playoff scorer Brandon Magee found a way to make an impact in Game 4. Magee didn’t score, but he had two assists in the 3-0 win. For the series, Magee has five goals and three assists for eight points in four games. A big game tonight from Magee and his linemates Alex Forsberg and Austin Carroll would be big for the Royals as they look to close out the series tonight.
Who’s on D:
After a somewhat quiet start to the series offensively, 20-year-old Travis Brown made a profound impact in Game 4. He scored the game’s first goal at the 4:20 mark of the second, and also played a strong game defensively by blocking shots, making good passes and protecting the front of his net when called upon. He’s a smooth skater, a good puck mover, and he’s got a wicked shot from the point. His 18 goals in the regular season were tops among all WHL defencemen.
Who’s in Goal:
Veteran netminder Coleman Vollrath is a lock to get his fifth consecutive start of the series tonight for Victoria. So far in the series he’s 3-1 with a .916 save percentage, a 2.76 goals-against-average and 1 shutout. His best game of the series was Game 4 when he stopped all 24 Cougars shots against him en route to a 3-0 victory for his team. Tonight at home he’ll look to backstop his team to a birth in the second round.
The first 10 minutes of tonight’s game is going to be big for both sides, but particularly for the home team. The Victoria Royals will have the crowd on their side tonight, and will no doubt be looking to set the tone early with both physicality and offense. Every team in the WHL is tougher to play against when they have a lead, and the Royals proved that in Game 4 after they went up 1-0 in the second period. They locked it down and made it very difficult for the Cougars. A good start will be a major key for Victoria tonight as they don’t want to give the Cougars any opening, that could result in the switching of momentum.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars are no strangers to this type of situation. From February on they’ve played ‘must win’ hockey, and that mentality does not change in the slightest bit heading into tonight’s game. In Games 1, 2, and 3, the Cougars put forth a terrific effort, and in many ways the 2-1 series deficit didn’t really do justice to how well the Cougars had played. Game 4 the Royals were the better team, plain and simple, and tonight the Cougars will look to get back to what made them successful in Game 3. Can the Cougars find that next level of desperation that will help them move the series back to Prince George on Monday?
Who’s Up Front:
In an elimination game, you need your veterans to lead the charge, and for 20-year-old’s Zach Pochiro and Jari Erricson, it could be their last kick at the can in a WHL game. Erricson and Pochiro each have a goal and two assists in the series, and have been reliable two-way players for the Cougars all series long. Tonight though, both will try and find that ‘little bit extra’ as they try to keep their WHL careers alive. If they lead, you can bet that the rest of the team will follow. What other choice do they have?
Who’s on D:
Tonight especially, the Prince George Cougars will need to pay attention to their details defensively. Defensively the Cougars had their moments in Game 4, but ultimately when mistakes were made the Royals capitalized. Once again it’s up to the veterans on the back-end to lead the way. Josh Connolly, Joe Carvalho, Kirk Bear and Tomas Andrlik will need to make the most of their minutes and opportunities at both ends of the ice. If it means blocking a shot, than so be it. If it means getting a point shot through, then that’s the name of the game. The biggest thing will be to just have everybody back there playing to their strengths. If they do that, they’ll give themselves every possible opportunity to win.
Who’s in Goal:
For a second straight game, Ty Edmonds was solid for the Cougars. There’s not much a goalie can do when his team can’t generate offense, and Edmonds did what he had to do to keep his team in the game Thursday stopping 21 of the 24 shots he faced. If the Cougars are going to get back into this series, Edmonds is going to have to steal two games on the road. He’s proven time and time again this season that he’s up for the challenge, and tonight you can expect to see Ty Edmonds leave it all out there as he tries to backstop his team to a Game 6 in Prince George on Monday.
Desperation. Pure and simple. If the Cougars can’t match the Victoria Royals level of desperation, they will not win. This means taking the body, blocking shots, and doing everything possible to help extend the series. This team has accomplished too much this season to go down without a fight. The old cliché rings true: The fourth game of the series is always the toughest one to win, and tonight the Cougars have every intention of spoiling the party for the Victoria Royals.