Caps’ cushion at a single point in dogfight for playoffberth

A single point in a 3-2 overtime loss last Saturday kept the Cowichan Valley Capitals just ahead of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the battle for the last playoff spot in the B.C. Hockey League’s Island Division.

The Caps lead the Bulldogs 39 points to 38, and both teams have just nine games left on the season.

The overtime loss came in the second of back-to-back games against the division leading Kings in Powell River, following a 5-4 defeat on Friday night.

“Aside from the point perspective, our performance wasn’t lacking,” Cowichan head coach Bob Beatty said. “We did have a flat spot in Friday in the second period where we allowed the two shorthanded goals, but other than that, we were right with them.”

On Friday, Jesse Neher scored twice in the third period as the Caps fought back from a 5-2 deficit after two periods to get within a goal. That followed a flurry late in the second where the two squads combined for five goals in five minutes and 12 seconds, the Caps’ markers coming from Jordan Topping and Mason Malkowich.

Topping finished the night with two points, and defenceman Valik Chichkin had two helpers. Robin Gusse made 34 saves in the Cowichan net.

On Saturday, Brayden Gelsinger scored with 20 seconds left in regulation to force extra time. The teams battled into a second additional period before Powell River’s Luke Nogard notched the winner. Gelsinger also helped set up Taylor Allan’s first-period goal. Gusse stopped 28 of 31 shots.

“We played a solid game Saturday and we were able to get a point,” Beatty said. “We did have some golden opportunities in overtime to score, and we weren’t able to put it in.”

The two close games with the Kings continued the Caps’ trend of staying right with the BCHL’s top teams.

“I think since Christmas, aside from the first road trip, we’ve been playing well,” Beatty said. “We’ve got to be happy with the way we’re playing overall.”

Wins are the first tiebreaker if Cowichan and Alberni end up tied for points, so the Caps will be looking to add victories this weekend when they visit Nanaimo on Friday night, then host Powell River on Saturday and Coquitlam on Sunday afternoon. “It’s good that we’re playing under pressure,” Beatty said. “The guys seem to be responding pretty well. We can’t let up for a shift against any of these teams. Every shift is important, and could be the difference in making the playoffs. We’ve got to get in that mindset.”