The Cowichan Valley Capitals are still very much alive in the playoff race despite just three wins in their last 14 games.
Alberni Valley Bulldogs clinched a B.C. Hockey League Coastal Conference playoff spot by beating Coquitlam 6-4 Saturday and Surrey 3-1 Sunday, leaving the Caps and Express to fight it out for the final berth.
The mood was gloomy around Cowichan Arena after the Caps lost 4-1 to the Nanaimo Clippers Friday and 3-1 to the Powell River Kings Saturday on home ice.
But a 6-5 overtime victory against the Clippers in Nanaimo Sunday changed everything.
The Caps and Express are now tied with 50 points apiece heading into the final five days of the regular season. The Express has a game in hand, but the Caps own the tiebreaker by virtue of more victories.
That means the Express must get at least one point from its final three games — Wednesday at Surrey, Friday at home against Surrey and Sunday at home against Salmon Arm — no matter what the Caps do in Victoria Wednesday and at home Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Powell River.
Jordan Grant rejuvenated the Caps with a five-point night against Nanaimo and is now tied for the league scoring lead with former teammate Mike Hammond of the Salmon Arm SilverBacks. Tyler Matheson racked up three points and Matt Cassidy added a goal and an assist.
The Caps didn’t get the greatest start in Nanaimo. They were outshot 21-3 in the first period and 12-8 in the second, but overcame 3-1 and 4-3 deficits to go ahead 5-4 in the third period. Nanaimo’s Brett Hartskamp tied it with 10 minutes left, but Grant scored the winner for the Caps 37 seconds into overtime.
The players obviously sensed the urgency of their situation and played better as the game went on. Coach Dale Purinton was clearly miffed about the team’s undisciplined penalties following the previous two home games.
I think all year it’s hurt us and now it’s magnified,’’ he said. “I blame myself for not hammering guys early on.’’
Injuries throughout the season haven’t afforded Purinton the luxury of extra players for making lineup decisions in the event he felt disciplinary action needed to be taken.
“It’s all about team,’’ he said. “Some of our guys just aren’t good enough to get it done at times — especially against the higher-end teams.
“You’re not just playing for the Cowichan Valley Capitals, you’re playing for your job next year, you’re playing for scholarships.’’
Purinton said scouts love to watch players closely at this time of the year to see who steps up to the plate during times of adversity.
The Caps didn’t give up any goals on five Powell River power-play chances Saturday, but Carter Shinkaruk scored the insurance goal just nine seconds after Clayton Chessa returned to the ice. Alex Halloran was sent off for slashing in the last 2:40 of the game.
“Every penalty we took was an earned penalty,’’ said Purinton. “They were bad penalties.’’
Chase Kaiser scored the lone goal for the Caps early in the third period to close the gap to 2-1, but they couldn’t generate an equalizer.
“Against the No. 1 team, overall it was a good game,’’ said Purinton. “But not all our guys are going.
“Your coaching staff cannot want it more than half your players. My expectations are high on our guys.’’
The Caps are 21-29-8 for 50 points, three points shy of last season’s 25-32-3 pace for 53 points, but can surpass or equal that total in their final two games.
Last season, the Caps had a comfortable margin over Burnaby — the previous location of the Coquitlam franchise — for the final playoff spot. They subsequently went on to lose in a five-game playoff series to Powell River.
This season’s passage into the playoffs hangs in the balance between the Caps and Coquitlam, depending which team rises to the occasion.