The Chilliwack Chiefs advanced to the second round of the BCHL playoffs Wednesday night with a clutch 5-2 win over the Prince George Spruce Kings.
The Chiefs will move on to play a best-of-five series against the Surrey Eagles for the Mainland Division championship. As the top seed, Surrey has home ice advantage and will open the series Friday. Game 2 will go Saturday in Surrey, with the teams reconvening in Chilliwack Monday for Game 3.
The Chiefs earned their series win by outplaying Prince George in all five games. And after a dicy opening that saw Prince George leap out to a 1-0 lead just 73 seconds in, Wednesday's Game 5 was no exception.
With Prince George staked to an early lead, Chilliwack went on the attack and got a tying goal from Josh Hansen midway through the first period.
The Chiefs outshot Prince George handily—17-8— in the opening frame, but couldn't beat Spruce Kings goalie Kirk Thompson again.
With Prospera Centre on edge and many likely wondering whether Thompson would steal a third game for his team, Philip Zielonka gave fans reason to feel confident midway through the second when he scored on the power play.
Zielonka took a sly cross-seam pass from David Thompson and was able to elevate his shot just enough to get it past the Spruce Kings' goalie. The importance of the goal was evident when an ecstatic Zielonka raced over to Cooper Rush and jumped a foot off the ground into the six-foot-seven defenceman's arms.
After carrying that lead into the intermission, Mathieu Tibbet scored 1:07 into the third to provide the Chiefs with some breathing room. Austin Plevy added a fourth goal six minutes later as Prince George's defence began to crumble.
Or so it seemed. But with the tension just starting to ease, Sean Landrey pulled Prince George back to within two just before the midway point of the period.
The Chiefs endured a nervy 10 minutes, but Mitch Gillam was solid in the Chilliwack net, and despite carrying much of the play, the Spruce Kings could not generate enough Grade A chances to pull themselves even.
Plevy added an empty-netter with four seconds left on the clock to start the celebration.
While Thompson may have been the Spruce Kings' not-so-secret weapon, the Chiefs route to victory can be credited, in large part, to their offensive depth.
While Zielonka was clearly the team's most valuable player—scoring a ridiculous seven goals in the five games—the unlikely duo of Graboski and Tibbet were second and third, respectively in scoring for the series.
Graboski registered eight assists, including three in Game 5, while Tibbet's three goals and four assists weren't too far off his regular season total.