The Peninsula Panthers failed to make up ground against the division-leading Victoria Cougars but did put some distance between themselves and the Westshore Wolves nipping at their heels.
That is the upshot of Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League weekend action as the Panthers faced the Victoria Cougars in what owner and general manager Pete Zubersky described as an “absolute barn-burner” at North Saanich Panorama Recreation Centre.
“It was a playoff atmosphere and both clubs played like it was the seventh game of a playoff series,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, no doubt about it.”
In the end, the Cougars came up smiling with a narrow 4-3 win that could have easily been a victory for the Panthers, who had taken a 3-2 lead with less than 13 minutes left in the final period thanks to Payton Braun’s 35th goal of the season. The two teams had traded goals and leads in the first two periods of the game, which saw a combined total of 92 shots, with Panthers goalie Ashton Lukan stopping 46 out of 50 shots. Goals by Jacob Pang and Ethan Roworth, however, turned the game in favour of the Cougars, who now have a four-point cushion on the Panthers, with one game in hand.
With first place and an easier playoff match increasingly out of reach, the Panthers also found themselves looking behind them as they travelled to Saanich to face the fourth-placed Predators. With games in hand, the Westshore Wolves had been making a push for second place and home-ice advantage in the likely match up against the Panthers. But the Wolves, who recently beat the Panthers, have hit a rough patch and the Panthers used Sunday’s road game against the Predators to send a statement by winning 8-2.
“We wanted to put some distance between ourselves and the Westshore Wolves who are behind us in the standings and our guys played just as we had asked them to do for the full 60 minutes,” said Zubersky. Of note was Braun’s performance, who scored three goals to set a new scoring record for rookies by eclipsing Spencer Carbery, now an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Zubersky praised his team for playing the game at full intensity for its entirety. “We won handily, but never took the foot off the pedal until the final buzzer and that was a lot of fun to see,” he said. “We had a real balanced attack on Sunday with all four lines contributing.”
Sunday’s victory gives the Panthers the inside track for home-ice advantage against the Wolves, who have lost four in a row but have two games in hand.
“We are locked in position to play the Wolves in the first round of the playoffs, so all that needs to be decided is home ice and we certainly have the inside track. We play the Wolves on Friday night in our barn and a win would seal our playoff position, it’s a significant game.”
The puck drops Friday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. at Panorama Recreation Centre.
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