SURREY - The game plan for the battered and bruised Surrey Eagles has become a simple one: win or go home.
The Eagles dropped a pair of games on home ice last weekend to fall behind 3-1 in their best-of-seven B.C Hockey League Coastal Conference final series with the Powell River Kings. After the two teams split the first two games of the series on the Sunshine Coast, the Kings outlasted the Eagles 4-3 in Game 3 Friday before taking a stranglehold on the proceedings with a 2-1 overtime win Saturday night at South Surrey Arena.
The series has taken a physical toll on the Eagles. Injuries forced key forwards Brandon Tanev and Brandon Morley to watch Saturday's game from the stands while several other Birds were playing despite feeling the effects of undisclosed ailments.
"We're short some guys right now with injuries but as a group, we all stepped up," said Eagles coach Matt Erhart following the OT loss Saturday. "I couldn't ask anything more from our guys. They battled from the second period on (in Game 3) and for five periods, they gave it everything they had. As a coach that's all I can ask for."
Eagles captain Tyler Morley added, "It's tough to lose a game like this after everybody worked so hard. We have a lot of guys playing hurt right now. They're giving everything they have and that's what the playoffs are all about. In the end though, a dumb turnover cost us the game."
Saturday's game quickly turned into a goaltender's duel between Surrey's Andrew Hunt and Powell River's Sean Maguire. The pair of stoppers turned aside 83 shots in the first three periods of play before the game was settled early in the first overtime period.
Powell River opened the scoring barely two minutes after the opening face-off and Surrey spent the next 54 minutes battling to level the count. The Eagles finally succeeded with three minutes remaining in regulation when Sean McGovern banged home a rebound off a shot from Demico Hannoun.
The Eagles started overtime on the power play for a minute but moments after the penalty expired, the Kings' Cohen Adair jumped on a Surrey turnover and scored the game-winning goal.
"Powell River is a team that consistently limits opponents to between 20 and 25 shots per game and tonight we put 50 on (Maguire)," Erhart said. "The guys played exactly how we wanted - we held them to a single goal through 60 minutes but we just couldn't ourselves. In the playoffs you need some puck luck at times and we had a couple of chances where the goalie never even saw the shot, it just hit him. Other times the puck just went over the net but that's the game of hockey."
One night earlier, the Kings raced out of the gates and bagged four goals in the first period to send Hunt packing. To their credit, the Eagles did not give up and actually took over the game for the final 40 minutes of play. The Eagles steadily chipped away at the Kings' lead with goals from Steve Koshey, Devon Toews and Tyler Morley but Surrey was unable to complete the comeback.
"Powell River played really desperate hockey in the first period and they got the early lead on us," Erhart said. "We came back and played desperate ourselves for the next two periods and managed to get to within one at 4-3. It was a good effort but at the same time, you can't dig yourself a 4-0 hole in playoffs and expect to come back. We did manage to score three goals on them but the hole we dug ourselves in the first period was too big. Against a team like Powell River, you can't do that."
The series shifted back to Powell River last night for Game 5. The Eagles are in a desperate situation and for many of the veteran Birds, a loss will end not only the series, but their junior hockey careers as well.
"It's do or die now for my career and for a lot of players' careers," Tyler Morley said. "We have nothing to hold back so we have to leave everything out there on the ice. We have to go up there and win one game in Powell. If we can do that, the next game is back on our ice and it's a whole new series."
Should the Eagles win tonight, Game 6 will be played Tuesday at South Surrey Arena beginning at 7 p.m.