What a difference a few days make.
After winning the first two games of the BC Hockey League’s Fred Page Cup finals on home ice, the Surrey Eagles headed to Penticton in the driver’s seat in their best-of-seven series against the defending champion Vees.
But now? Now it’s back to Square 1 for the Peninsula squad after the Vees evened the series earlier this week with home-ice wins in Games 3 and 4, both by identical 3-2 scores.
In both games, held Monday and Tuesday at the South Okanagan Events Centre, the two teams were tied after 40 minutes, but the Vees outscored the Eagles 4-1 in the two third periods combined, including a three-goal outburst in Game 4 Tuesday that quickly erased Surrey’s 1-0 lead.
In that instance, Penticton’s Wade Murphy scored a power-play goal 58 seconds into the third period when his wrist shot from the left circle beat Eagles’ goalie Michael Santaguida, and Ryan Gropp and Jedd Soleway also scored to boost the Vees to victory, with both goals coming as a result of less-than-stellar defensive play on the part of the Eagles, whose lone goal of the final frame came from Nic Pierog.
Surrey forward Anthony Brito – a 20-year-old affiliate player – scored the first goal of Game 4.
“We shot ourselves in the foot. We got a questionable penalty call (against us) at the end of the second, and they got a power-play goal to start the third,” Eagles coach Matt Erhart explained after the game.
“Then we turned the puck over twice and they score (on both).
“Penticton is a great team and I thought our group battled hard – that’s the reason it was tied in the third period both nights, but they found a way to win, and we found a way to lose. We didn’t get it done, and we need to be better for Game 5.”
In Game 4 Monday, the Vees notched their first win of the best-of-seven series in part because of their ability to finally solve Santaguida, who was coming off a 50-save shutout at home in Game 2.
On Monday, Penticton’s Brad McClure scored twice in the first 40 minutes, and Cody DePourcq – one of the few holdovers from last year’s championship team – scored the winner 10:53 into the third period, when he converted a pass from Travis Blanleil on a two-on-one.
“I didn’t get on top of the puck well enough,” Santaquida said after the game. “He made a good shot over top of my pad. Right in the little corner. I thought I had it, to be honest. Kind of kicking myself for that.”
For DePourcq, the goal was just his second in 13 playoff games.
“I have been getting a lot of chances lately, (but) they just haven’t gone in for me,” he said. “It’s nice to get that goal, but it’s even better to get the win.”
Pierog – with his ninth goal of the playoffs – and Brady Shaw, on the power play, scored for the Eagles, who managed 28 shots on Vees’ netmidner Chad Katunar.
Game 5 is scheduled for tonight (Thursday), 7 p.m. at South Surrey Arena. The series will return to Penticton for Game 6 Sunday and, if necessary, Game 7 will be played in South Surrey Monday.
And if the old hockey axiom – that a team is never out of a series until they lose at home – is indeed true, the Game 5 looms awfully large for the Birds, who’ve cruised through the playoffs up until this point, compiling a 10-1 record en route to the finals.
“Both teams have won their homes games, and that’s kind of what you’re supposed to do, and now it’s a best-of-three,” said Erhart.
Despite the back-to-back losses, Erhart insisted after Game 4 that his team didn’t have to change much about its game, save for a limiting the turnovers and tightening up defensively as a whole.
“Our group doesn’t have to change much, we’re in the finals for a reason, we just need to tidy up a few little areas and we’ll be ready to go.”
– with files from Emanuel Sequeira, Penticton Western News