The Peninsula Panthers head into their final home game on a losing note, but with the knowledge the 2019/20 regular season will have been their best ever.
The Panthers head into their Friday Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) matchup against the Westshore Wolves with a record of 34 wins and 13 losses. Peninsula dropped a 3-2 decision to the Saanich Braves during a rare afternoon game on Family Day Monday. Billed as Peninsula Minor Hockey Association / Fan Appreciation game, the contest saw the Panthers fall behind by two goals before Drew Coughlin pulled one back for the Panthers towards the end of the first period.
Fans then saw a scoreless period, but also a slew of penalties, with five of six going against the Panthers. The visiting Braves, who travelled with their own fan support, gave themselves a cushion early in the third period, shortly after killing off one of four penalties during that period against them.
Increasingly desperate, the hosts upped the pressure as they outshot the visitors 14-3 during the final frame, but found themselves unable to solve Saanich goalie Robert Michetti, who robbed the Panthers of several scoring chances from close range. Luc Pelletier set up a strong finish with his goal with just over two minutes left. But the Panthers could not complete the comeback despite holding a two-man advantage for the final minute of the game after pulling the goalie with the Braves shorthanded.
The Panthers will look to conclude their regular season on a winning note against the team which they will face in the first round of the playoffs, the Westshore Wolves.
“This is going to be a tough series to win,” said Pete Zubersky, the Panthers’ general manager. “Both clubs can skate, both have goaltending and solid defence. We have a bit more experience and I hope that it factors into the series. I expect that both will have great support and I know that revs up our guys.”
The odds appear to favour the Panthers, who have won four out of seven against the Wolves this season, including Friday’s 3-1 home win. The Panthers sealed their victory when Tanner Wort scored his second goal of the game and his 41st of the season, tying the Panthers’ all-time regular season mark for most goals. Denver Maloney chipped in with a single while Connor McKillop picked up his 26th win of the season.
The two squads will look to renew acquaintances Friday, then again Monday. While the puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. on both nights, the stakes will be significantly higher on the second night as Zubersky expects the Panthers-Wolves playoff matchup to be the toughest of the four first-round affairs, with Peninsula holding home-ice advantage.
Elsewhere in the VIJHL’s South Division, the Victoria Cougars will open their playoffs against the Saanich Braves.
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