Rivermen take series finale; Earn first ever playoff spot

The Langley Rivermen and Prince George Spruce Kings had one last meeting of the season on Sunday afternoon. It was the ninth and final meeting of the year, and the game was for all the marbles for the season series as it was knotted up at 4-4. Langley could seal up a playoff spot with a win or a Coquitlam loss in regulation against Salmon Arm who also played on Sunday. James Barr would earn his third straight start of the weekend, while Liam McLeod was in goal for PG. The Spruce Kings won the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday night 4-1.

The Rivermen would receive a power play in the opening minutes and Evan Campbell was able to earn the first goal of the game.  Mario Puskarich found James Robinson in the slot who fired a shot wide of the goal, but took a lively bounce right off the end wall to Campbell who put home his 18th goal of the season. With the assist, Puskarich extended his point streak to nine games. Just past the five minute mark the Spruce Kings would get that one back on their first power play of the game. Justin Rai would wrist a shot that was blocked in front of Barr and Jake Lebrun found the puck in a mad scramble and put a quick shot top corner. At the 13:10 mark the Spruce Kings would make it 2 for 2 on the man advantage on a goal from Justin Rai who skated off the right wing and put a shot below the blocker of Barr to give PG their first lead of the game. A Shift later, Mario Puskarich would hang on to the puck on a two on one and rifle a wrist shot top corner for his league leading 40th goal of the campaign. The ‘Men were not done their as the top line of Puskarich, Campbell, and Robinson went to work again. Robinson would get a pass from Puskarich along the right boards and find Campbell in the high slot who let a backhand go top shelf past a screened Liam McLeod. That whole line would pick up three points each after 20 minutes.

In the second period, Langley would get another power play, but this time it did not work out. PG dumped the puck in the Langley zone near James Barr who came out to play it, but fanned on his pass and gave it right to Coltyn Hansen who deposited the puck into the empty net. Three minutes later in the midst of a 3-3 tie, it was James Robinson’s turn to get on the board. The rookie forward was able to shovel in a rebound in the crease off of a Puskarich shot to get the lead once again. The Rivermen would get their largest lead of the game shortly after on a goal from Robinson again. This time Puskarich would throw the puck near the net that tipped off Robinson’s stick and then popped straight up in the air over the head of McLeod and into the goal. That would be the last goal of an entertaining period with the Rivermen up 5-3. Near the end of the period, the Rivermen would find out that Salmon Arm scored a late third period goal over Coquitlam and won 5-4. That meant the Rivermen clinched the fourth and final playoff spot, but still wanted to beat the Spruce Kings in the third stanza.

34 seconds into the last period, Matt Ustaski would whip a shot towards McLeod that hit a skate and bounced right to Trevor Cope who had a wide open net and and made no mistake for his 12th goal of the year.  The next shift, Puskarich would notch his second of the game on a great cross ice pass from Robinson on an odd man rush to make it a 7-3 game. Shortly after, things got out of hand as Trevor Esau took a healthy run at Barr after he covered up the puck. All 10 skaters on the ice got into it with one another including Barr who wanted a piece of the PG captain. Esau would be ejected from the game along with Austin Azurdia. After a very long delay to sort out penalties, Derek Sutliffe and Mitch Eden would trade goals before the final buzzer sounded and the contest would end 8-4 in Langley’s favour.

 

It was a fantastic bounce back win for the Rivermen who in the end took home two points and a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history. The first line was the difference as Puskarich and Robinson finished the game with two goals and four assists each, while Campbell racked up five points. With the win, the Rivermen take the season series getting 12 points out of a possible 18 in the nine games.

The ‘Boatmen have two games left in the regular season, which are both against Chilliwack this week. The playoff match-ups are all set as well as Langley will play game one of the first round in Surrey on March 15th.

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