The Ridge Meadows Flames continued their perfect month of March jumping out to an early lead in the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship series.
Veteran goaltender Cam Connolly made 44 saves in more than 58 minutes of shutout play to lead the Flames to a 2-1 victory over the Delta Ice Hawks on Thursday night at the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Game two of the best-of-seven series is also in Ladner on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) before the teams head to Maple Ridge for games three and four on Monday and Wednesday.
The Ice Hawks looked poised to continue their own perfect post-season run on home ice when rookie Brayden Sinclair neatly converted a feed from Colin Jang just 72 seconds into the contest. Delta then had some excellent chances on a couple of first period power play opportunities, but couldn’t add to the lead.
The hosts also got off to a strong start to open the second period with plenty of pucks fired at Connolly who continued to hold his ground and kept his team in striking distance. Sure enough, Brandon Osborne capped an excellent shift when he fired the equalizer past a screened Zach Shaughnessy with 4:52 left in the second.
Zack Lagrange added to his earlier assist when he beat Shaughnessy on the short side from the face-off circle with what proved to be the game winner with 7:19 remaining after Cohen Muc jumped on a bad turnover.
It was the Flames’ eighth straight victory of the post-season after dropping game two of their quarter-final series with Mission City then winning the next three and sweeping the Chilliwack Jets in the semi-finals.
It’s been an interesting post-season run for the Ice Hawks where the league’s highest scoring team has dominated long-stretches of games with loads of shots, but don’t have a ton of production to show for it, especially from some of their top regular season scorers. The team’s checking line of Alex Lucchesi, Henry Smith and Austin Kofler led the way offensively in the semi-final series win over White Rock.
Delta did welcome back last season’s top playoff scorer Conner Merriman on Thursday after he missed the final two games of the White Rock series with an injury. The 19-year-old had 13 goals in 17 post-season games a year ago and added 35 more in 42 regular season games in this campaign.