When you’re on a roll, the game of hockey can be so easy. Just ask the Winnipeg Blues.
Byron Spriggs stopped 16-of-17 shots while Liam Bilton had two goals and an assist as the Blues blasted the Dauphin Kings 6-1 in the opening game of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Turnbull Cup championship series.
With the win, the underdog Blues — a team that finished fourth in the Addison Division this season — are just three wins away from an MJHL championship.
“Our guys have stayed in the moment,” said Blues head coach Don MacGillivray. “Whenever we’ve thought about wrapping up a series or winning tonight, we’ve taken a step back. But when we stay in the moment, take it one game at a time, one shift at a time, we’ve been very good. That’s why we’re in the position we’re in.”
The Addison Division champs dominated the opener at the MTS Iceplex on Sunday night.
Garrett Browning opened the scoring on a power play at 18:34 and then 26 seconds later, Taeron Lewis made it 2-0 and the Blues were on their way.
Bilton scored his first of the game at 2:29 of the second period, but the Kings got on the board at 13:45 on the power play as Mitch VanTeeling, one of the best players in the MJHL this season, made it 3-1.
But Winnipeg took control of the third period. Bilton scored his second on a power play at 3:54 to make it 4-1. Warren Callis scored at 9:08 to make it 5-1 and then defenseman Channing Bresciani scored another power play goal at 10:52 to put the game away.
Ryan Bittner and Brent Brooks each had two assists as five different Blues scored and 12 players got on the score sheet.
“It’s the same as it’s been throughout the playoffs,” MacGillivray said. “Other than Byron in goal, there really hasn’t been one star. We’ve had all of our guys step up when we’ve needed them. To say one player or two players have been the stars would be unfair to the rest of them. This has been a total team effort.”
The key, once again, was the power play. The Blues were three-for-11 with the man advantage (27.3 per cent) and that was the difference in the game. Dauphin was one-for-four as the Kings streamed steadily to the penalty box in Game 1.
“They say special teams and goaltending wins playoff games and that’s been the difference for us,” said MacGillivray. “Our power play has been moving along at about a 30 per cent clip and that will go a long way toward winning hockey games. But goaltending has been important, too. The two games we’ve lost in the playoffs, we lost 2-1 and 1-0 so there isn’t enough you can say about Byron.”
Spriggs wasn’t tested much on Sunday. To see only 17 shots was a rarity for the Blues netminder who stopped 150 of 160 shots in the five-game Addison Division final series against Steinbach.
It was tough opener for the Kings who had breezed past OCN and Virden in eight straight games in the Sher-Wood Division playoffs. Heading into Sunday night’s opener, Dauphin netminder Michael Stiliadis had allowed only seven goals.
The Kings will have a shot at revenge on Tuesday night in Dauphin.
Regardless of who wins the series, both of these teams have qualified for the Western Canada Cup in Dauphin beginning April 25 in Dauphin.