Road losses in Prince George and Kamloops left the Victoria Royals on the outside looking in for the Western Hockey League playoff picture, but the final outcome will come down to a pair of home games against Spokane.
The Royals, sitting ninth in the Western Conference, host the Chiefs for games 67 and 68 on Friday and Saturday (April 15 and 16, 7 p.m. start) at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre and can clinch a post-season berth by winning both.
The Chiefs and Prince George Cougars hold the final two playoff spots and are deadlocked with identical 23-38-4-1 records, one point ahead of the Royals (22-38-5-1). The sixth seed is still up for grabs as well, as the Vancouver Giants (24-37-4-0) are just a point ahead of the Chiefs and Cougars and two up on Victoria with a game in hand on all three.
Based solely on strength of schedule, the Royals and Chiefs appear to have the best chance of nailing down the final berths.
Prince George winds up its regular season with road games against Kamloops and Kelowna, both well ahead of the Cougars in the standings, while the Giants host fourth-place Seattle on Wednesday, Kelowna on Friday and head to Kamloops for a Saturday finale.
The Cougars boosted their playoff hopes with a 2-1 win over the Royals in Prince George on Saturday. The Royals’ Marcus Almquist scored unassisted 1:27 into the first, but Cougars forward Johnny Hooker tied it up halfway through the opening frame.
The teams stayed tied until a power play goal by Ethan Sampson put Prince George ahead with about six minutes left. The Royals outshot the Cougars 30-23 overall and 10-5 in the third period. Cougars goaltender Ty Young turned aside a number of Royals opportunities in the final minutes to secure the victory.
Last Friday’s game in Kamloops saw at least one point snatched away from the Royals, who gave up the winning goal in a 4-3 loss with just four seconds left.
The teams traded goals back and forth throughout the game, with the Royals responding every time Kamloops inched ahead.
Victoria’s Bailey Peach scored his 36th goal of the season and second of the game to tie it up at 3-3 at the 12:32 mark of the third. But with the clock winding down and overtime looming, Blazers forward Matthew Seminoff scored off a two-on-one break to deliver a heartbreaking defeat to the Royals.
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