The Nanaimo Clippers are experiencing playoff pressure.
The Clips and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs play a do-or-die Game 5 tonight (March 20) to determine which team will advance in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
Nanaimo had built a two-games-to-none series lead, but Alberni won both its games over the hump, winning 4-1 on Monday and 3-2 on Tuesday.
In Tuesday’s Game 4 the Clippers carried much of the play but the Bulldogs built a lead on two power-play goals and were able to hang on.
“They scored on their power play and we didn’t. That’s probably the biggest factor in the series, to be honest,” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach. “Five-on-five we had a fair chunk of the play – we outshot them; we created a lot of scoring chances for ourselves.
“We had a bad bounce on the penalty kill on one play, but you’ve got to take advantage of your bounces at the other end, too.”
The Clippers outshot the Bulldogs in every period and ended up with a 41-26 edge in that category. Derek Dun suffered the loss in goal in his first start of the series.
Reid Sturos had both Nanaimo goals, including one with 22 seconds left in the third period that allowed his team to put together one final flurry to try to tie the game.
So both teams won their home games to start the series, and the Clippers end up getting the home-ice advantage for Game 5 that they played for all season long.
“A rink’s a rink, but maybe being able to get a few matchups on the ice that we want, having the ability to do that will be helpful,” Vandekamp said.
The Clippers also have some cavalry coming in for Game 5, as power forward Mason Mitchell – one of the team’s top goal scorers in the second half of the season – returns from suspension for his first playoff action.
Vandekamp was asked whether the hockey cliches about winning with guts, heart and determination are accurate when it comes to elimination games.
“The best team will win – the team that plays the best as a team. Part of playing as a team is doing just that, working hard and making sacrifices,” he said. “It’s not a matter of people playing outside of their abilities, it’s just a matter of everybody showing up and playing to the best of their abilities and playing hard as a team.”
GAME ON … The Nanaimo Clippers and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs play tonight (March 20) at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena … The game story will be posted tonight at www.nanaimobulletin.com/sports/clippers … If the Clippers advance, they play Game 1 of Round 2 on Friday (March 22). The game could be home or away depending on results in the other Island Division series. The Victoria Grizzlies or the Powell River Kings also require a Game 5 to settle their series.