Tristan Nielsen went from game-time decision to overtime hero on Saturday night sending the Vancouver Giants to a 2-0 series lead over the Victoria Royals.
After shaking his defender behind the net, Davis Koch threaded a beautiful pass to a wide-open Nielsen and Nielsen made no mistake, burying his third of the playoffs at 3:29 of overtime at Langley Events Centre for a 2-1 Giants victory in the Western Conference semifinal series.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 7, 2019
The series now shifts to Victoria for Games 3 and 4 three on Tuesday, April 9 and Thursday, April 11.
Nielsen didn’t finish Game 1 the night before, a 3-0 Vancouver victory also at LEC, but after taking the pre-game skate, felt well enough to play.
He finished the game with a goal and an assist and was the game’s second star. And the only reason he didn’t get top billing was because of the player he beat for the winner, Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse.
The fact the game even went to overtime came down to one thing: Outhouse’s heroics as he made 37 saves as Victoria was outshot 39-10.
The Royals had just five shots through 40 minutes.
By comparison, Vancouver matched that total on a second-period five-minute power play.
They also opened the scoring as Lukas Svejkovsky showed great patience and poise, getting the puck at the face-off circle and instead of trying to place a perfect shot past Outhouse, the shifty winger went behind the goal and tucking the puck in on the wrap-around.
And with Outhouse keeping it a one-goal game, his teammates rewarded his heroics at the 10:12 mark of the final frame with a power-play marker.
Ralph Jarratt’s point shot pinballed off a trio of Giants and past David Tendeck to even the score on just the team’s ninth shot of the goal.
Coach Michael Dyck was impressed with his team’s response after surrendering the tying goal.
“It was play to win, not play to not lose,” he said. “It would have been easy to get frustrated.”
The game could have been over after 40 minutes as the Giants defence suffocated the Royals offensive forays while Vancouver had at least 10 quality scoring chances, only to be stymied by Outhouse or iron.
“We know they have a stellar goaltender who has had our number,” Nielsen said. “Our goalie coach did a heck of a job preparing us on him and telling us not get frustrated because he is an excellent goalie.”
For the series, the Giants have outshot Victoria a combined 67-25 with Outhouse posting a .939 save percentage.
With three days until Game 3, Royals coach Dan Price said his team will look at video, specifically the third period which was team’s best 20 minutes of the series so far.
The silver lining for a team facing an 0-2 hole is the fact they were in both games. Game 1 saw the team down 1-0 in the third period before Jared Dmytriw doubled the lead and Dawson Holt sealed it with an empty-net goal. And in game two, it was again a 1-0 game with 20 minutes to play.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 7, 2019
“Both games have been really competitive, aggressive and not much ice available,” Price said. “You have to every shot count.”
Through the first 123:29 of the series, Victoria has mustered a combined 25 shots on goal, or a shot nearly every five minutes of ice time.
“Vancouver is doing a very good job of getting in front of -pucks for sure, we just need to be a little bit better with our shot selection, making sure we get it through lanes, get it off quickly and recovering pucks that don’t get through. Just basic o-zone fundamentals,” Price said, adding that all season his team has been receptive at taking the coaching staff’s feedback and improving.
As for which Giants netminder they might be facing in Game 3, that remains a question mark.
Trent Miner started game one of the series and made 15 saves for the shutout, but Dyck flipped back to Tendeck for game two.
In the opening series, Miner played games one and two, going 1-1 and Tendeck played games three and four, also going 1-1. Both times the goaltender won the first game but lost the second, which came on the very next day. Dyck then went with Miner in game five and with game six the next night, tapped Tendeck to start, and Vancouver won both.
That strategy follows the team’s platoon system they did much of the regular season to great success.
“You have to go with what’s working and I’ve coached teams where you ride one game until you can’t ride him anymore and right now these guys play well when we alternate and we are going to stick with that right now,” Dyck said.
Koch leads all WHL players with two goals and 10 assists for a dozen points through the first eight games.
Nielsen and Svejkovsky both finished with a goal and an assist.
The Royals finished the game with just four defencemen as Jake Kustra was tossed in the second period for a five-minute cross-checking major while Ralph Jarratt left in the third period and did not return after crashing into the boards.