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by Eddie Gregory  I

The Coquitlam Express are going back to Prince George after keeping their season alive in game 4 with a 3-0 shutout win over the Prince George Spruce Kings. Clay Stevenson post his first career playoff shutout and Chase Danol scored a natural hat-trick in the winning cause. https://bchl.ca/stats/game-summary/9113

With the season hanging on the line, the Express were challenged to have their best game of the series and everyone dug in all night to earn the victory.

Coquitlam had a better start in game 4 pushing the pace early which led to their first powerplay less than two minutes into the game. On the advantage Ty Westgard had a good chance to open the scoring on a one timer that went just wide of the net.

Troy Robillard came close to opening the scoring taking a centering pass from Alex DiPaolo then swatted it at the net only to be denied by Logan Neaton.

The Express physicality and overall heaviness of their game played a role in game 4. Alex DiPaolo delivered a few crunching hit and along with a few others. That left a few Prince George defenders looking over their shoulder a little more frequently going back for pucks wondering who in an Express jersey was coming at them.

There weren’t many shots on either side in the first period with the Express generating 7 and Clay Stevenson turning aside 5 Spruce Kings shots.

Prince George came out quick in the opening 90 seconds of the second period. Clay Stevenson made a key save on a Dustin Manz one timer during that flurry.

Then all of a sudden the Express ramped their game up with a number of dominant puck possession shifts in the Spruce Kings end of the ice. That sequence didn’t lead to many top notch chances, but certainly had the Spruce Kings chasing the game for a while.

Chase Danol has seen his offensive production from off from the first half of the season. That is in part due to a change in role after the trade deadline. But his strength on his stick with the puck and good hands was always still apart of his game that was going to show itself again.

It did Tuesday night with the Express season on the line. Midway through the 2nd period he finally broke the ice of the scoreless game. He found himself on an odd man chance with Jared Power. Danol was very patient holding on to the puck then finally lifting a backhand over Neaton for a 1-0 Express lead.

The penalty killing had a strong night limiting the quality chances for the Spruce Kings through the night.

The Express had to shut down a pair in the second period. Then after the play returned to 5 on 5 following a Christian Sanda high-sticking call, Prince George picked up their pace, but each time they ran into a dialled in Clay Stevenson. He was making key stops with quick pads, his glove was picking off hot shots sent his way. But the best save of the night isn’t credited to the goaltender.

With 15 seconds left in the 2nd period a shot by Liam Watson-Brawn found its way airborne in the crease behind Stevenson and the puck was batted away fantastically by Pito Walton to save a goal and preserve the 1-0 Express lead after 40 minutes.

The Express entered the third period with their biggest test of the season. They had games in the third period where leads slipped away in the regular season and in game 2 of this series. Tuesday night they couldn’t afford another meltdown or their season was done.

This time the Express were ready. When opportunities presented themselves they took advantage. Chong Min Lee was called for high sticking three minutes into the third period for the second Express powerplay of the night.

Again it was Danol showing good patience to extend the Express lead. With a loose puck at the side of the net Danol was able to bank the puck in off a downed Logan Neaton for his second of the night and a 2-0 Express lead.

Now it was time for the Express to really lock this one down. Danol was one of many making his contributions on the in the defensive zone as well. He got himself in a shooting lane to block a shot.

Then the last line of defence in Clay Stevenson was there to support the team in front of him. He made a great reaching glove save off Ben Poisson. There was also a sequence of three quick saves in tight that Stevenson was able to hold firm.

His best save came off Ben Brar with about 6 minutes left in the third period where the Spruce Kings power forward found himself all alone in the slot with the puck on his stick and Stevenson rushed out to challenge to make a stick save.  That save helped cement the 31 save performance for Stevenson’s first BCHL playoff shutout.

Then in the final moments the Express heavy game helped seal the victory. Danol and Regan Kimens helped team up to work the puck deep along the boards in the Spruce Kings zone to kill some time off the clock.

In the final minute Pito Walton cleared the puck down the ice into the Spruce Kings zone and Chase Danol bumped Nick Bochen off the puck and put it into the empty net for the hat-trick.

The victory planted a seed of hope for the Express that has now started to sprout. They hope that seed grows just a little more when the series shifts to Prince George for game 5 Thursday night.