The Kerry Park Islanders’ sweep of the Victoria Cougars in the first round of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoffs may have left them a little unprepared for their second-round showdown with the Peninsula Panthers.
“I think the sweep in Victoria had us mentally maybe not as focused as if we had a little longer of a series,” Islanders head coach Brandon Cox offered.
The Isles were stunned 6-1 by the Panthers in the series opener at Kerry Park Arena last Saturday, but drew even with a 3-2 victory at Panorama Rec Centre on Monday night.
The Panthers roared out of the gate with three goals in the first period on Friday before Kellan Bates replied early in the second. Peninsula was up 4-1 after two, then added two more in the third. Dryden DeMelo made 24 shots in his first playoff loss as the Isles outshot the Panthers 32-30.
After a scoreless first period on Monday, Matt Baird put the Isles in front early in the second, but the Panthers got it back with a powerplay goal later in the period. Brady Estabrook restored the Isles’ lead with a powerplay marker midway through the third, and Mateo Sjoberg made it 3-1. Peninsula added one more on the powerplay in the last second of the game. DeMelo made 40 saves as the Isles were outshot 42-28.
The teams will meet again at Panorama on Friday, then at Kerry Park on Saturday, and back at Panorama on March 18, with all games starting at 7:30 p.m. If necessary, game six will go at Kerry Park on March 19, and game seven at Panorama on March 20.
The Isles know they are facing a high-powered team that won 15 of 17 games in November and December and which is playing for teammate Grant Gilbertson who died in a car crash in early January. According to Cox, the keys to the series are goaltending and limiting the Panthers powerplay opportunities. Peninsula went 3-for-4 with the man advantage on Saturday, and scored both their goals on Monday on the powerplay.
“I think it’s going to be a good series,” Cox said. “I can’t sit here and say I can envision sweeping [the remaining games]. I didn’t envision sweeping the Cougars. But if we work hard it’s going to be a good series.”