An overtime thriller on Monday gave the Cowichan Rats a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Vancouver Island Lacrosse League championship series.
Deadlocked at seven goals apiece at the end of the third period, the teams went into a 10-minute non-sudden-death overtime. The Express scored first in the extra frame, but Brayden Zunti evened things up, and Tyson Black buried the winner with just 13.4 seconds left to play. The Express called a timeout with two seconds remaining, but couldn’t generate the equalizer.
The overtime goals were the second of the game for both Zunti and Black, who also finished with three and one assists, respectively. Mathieu Jung had a goal and three assists, and Dan Rabey, Dylan Dewarle, Jeremy Achtzner all had singles. Ryan Brabander was solid in the Cowichan net with 42 stops on 50 shots, while the Rats fired 54 shots at Saanich goalie Darian Claxton.
The Rats will try to lock up their second consecutive league title when the teams meet at Archie Browning Arena in Esquimalt on Thursday night.
Before they could play in the final, the Rats first had to get past the Victoria Blazers in the semifinal, a rematch of the championship series from 2019, the last time the VILL held a season.
The Rats prevailed 11-5 in the one-game semi, but it wasn’t as easy as the final score makes it look.
Cowichan was up 7-0 before the teams switched ends 10 minutes into the second period — a move necessitated by a broken 30-second clock at one end of the arena. The Blazers scored four times in the next 10 minutes, then added one early in the third to cut the Rats’ lead to 7-5.
Rabey got the Rats back on the board with a long shot that snuck between the pads of Blazers goalie Rob Wood, and Cowichan finished the game with four unanswered goals of their own. Black had two of those four, including a rare penalty shot goal in the dying minutes.
Jung led the way on offence with three goals and four assists, and Zunti had three goals and two helpers. Achtzner returned from a lengthy injury layoff with two goals and two assists, Aiden Miller had two assists, and Ryan King and Pete Vanden Dungen also recorded helpers. Brabander picked up where he left off at the end of the regular season by stopping 33 of 38 shots, while Wood saved 37 of 48.