Eagles grounded, Express next for Rivermen

Langley Rivermen goaltender Brock Crossthwaite looks over top the traffic in front of his crease from the battle between Surrey Eagles
Langley Rivermen goaltender Brock Crossthwaite looks over top the traffic in front of his crease from the battle between Surrey Eagles' Colton Mackie and Rivermen defenceman Charlie Pelnik during game two of the best-of-seven playoff series on March 5. Crossthwaite stopped 36 shots in game five on March 10 to give Langley a 3-2 series lead.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

A return to their defensive roots helped the Langley Rivermen dispose of the Surrey Eagles.

Over the first four games of the best-of-seven BCHL Mainland Division semifinal series — with each team winning twice — Langley out-scored Surrey 18-16.

But a 3-0 victory in game five on Monday (March 10) at the Langley Events Centre and then a series-clinching 6-1 win on Tuesday (March 11)  at the South Surrey Arena gave the Rivermen a 4-2 series victory and a spot in the BCHL’s Mainland Division finals.

“Defence, goaltending … our penalty kill was much better,” said Rivermen coach Bobby Henderson the morning after his team clinched the series and avoided a game seven.

“We were pretty focused. I don’t think we were going to let anything get in the way of the win.”

The Eagles had gone 7-for-27 with the man advantage the first four games, but were blanked in seven chances over the final two game.

“The biggest thing was the first four games — I don’t know if we were over-prepared or what it was — but we battled some nerves early in the series,” Henderson said.

“But they overcame that and got back on track.

“Starting next series, they just need to pick up where they left off.”

Up next will be the Coquitlam Express, the third seed in the Mainland Division, who upset the No. 2 Prince George Spruce Kings in six games.

Games one and two are Friday (March 14) and Saturday at the George Preston Recreation Centre. The Langley Events Centre arena bowl is hosting the B.C. high school boys 4A basketball championships.

Games three and four will be March 17 and 18 in Coquitlam.

If necessary, games five and seven would be back at the LEC on March 20 and 22, with game six in Coquitlam on March 21.

During the regular season, Langley won the season series 4-3-0-1 with the Rivermen out-scoring the Express 36-29.

“Pretty similar teams, very offensive-minded forwards and they get a contribution offensively from their back-end,” Henderson said.

“They are getting some timely goaltending, should be a heck of a series.”

“Two teams that don’t really like each other much, so there will be lots of emotion.”

Langley finished with 82 points, 23 ahead of Coquitlam, but the Express had more goals, 226 to 200. Goals against were in favour of Langley, 155 to 226.

Coquitlam has been stingy in the post-season, however, allowing just a dozen goals in six games and goaltender Gordie Defiel sports a 1.90 goals against average and a .944 save percentage.

The Express scored 17 goals in the series over Prince George while Langley struck for 27 goals against Surrey with 13 different players scoring and 16 of the 18 skaters getting at least a point.

Matt Ustaski led all Rivermen players with six goals and nine points.

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