They should have been basking in the glow of another victory, their third in four games, which pulled them to the .500 mark on the season.
Instead, the Vancouver Giants — who hung on for a wild 8-7 victory over the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings — were left wondering what had just happened.
For 40 minutes on Sunday at the Langley Events Centre, the Giants seemingly could do no wrong, racing out to an 8-1 lead heading into the third period. The eight goals were the most the team had scored in more than three years (a 9-1 win over Prince George on Oct. 18, 2014) and came on the heels of an impressive 4-1 win the night before on home ice against the Western Hockey League’s top team, the Victoria Royals.
The Oil Kings, on the other hand, had just five wins in 18 games, and were at the bottom of the WHL standings.
But Edmonton scored six goals in the third — Davis Koch made it 8-2 at 11:07 and Colton Kehler pulled the Oil Kings within one with six seconds to play — before seeing their improbable comeback bid come short.
The good news is the Giants won and improved to 8-8-2-2.
This was Vancouver’s third game in as many days and they now have points in four straight (3-0-1-0) after a 5-4 overtime road loss in Kelowna to the Rockets to begin the weekend.
“I don’t have the answer as to why we had the meltdown, but it was definitely a meltdown,” said Giants coach Jason McKee. “We shot ourselves in the foot and were lucky to escape.”
“I am surprised — I thought our group had taken big strides in understanding how to play with a lead.”
Vancouver raced out to a 3-0 lead as James Malm, Brendan Semchuk and Ty Ronning each scored in the first 13:08. The latter two goals were on the power play while Malm’s tally came shortly after an Edmonton penalty expired.
This also spelled the end of the night for Oil Kings goalie — and Langley native — Boston Bilous.
Edmonton’s Ty Gerla got the visitors on the board before intermission but the Giants seemingly put the game out of reach with five goals in the middle stanza.
Milos Roman and Matt Barberis scored power play goals two minutes apart — the latter on a two-man advantage — before Malm scored two more and Tyler Popowich added one.
Malm also had two assists for his first career WHL hat trick and a five-point game.
Koch scored twice while Tomas Soustal, David Kope and Trey Fix-Wolansky had one apiece during the Oil Kings’ late barrage. Two of the six goals came with the man advantage and a third was with goaltender Travis Child on the bench for an extra attacker.
Edmonton also had 19 shots on goal, after a total of just 17 through 40 minutes.
“We showed our immaturity tonight,” McKee said. “And full credit to (Edmonton), we knew they were coming.
“We just backed in, backed in and left our goalie (Todd Scott) out to dry.”
McKee described his post-game address to the team as “short and sweet” and said it would stay between him and the team.
The third period was marred by no offensive-zone time, no back-check and no one willing to get in shooting lanes, he said.
The players were also searching for answers as to what had transpired.
“I am speechless about what happened,” said captain Tyler Benson, the second star after a three-assist performance.
“Still in shock, not really sure what happened, But we scored enough and got the win.”
“I don’t think I have ever played with a lead that big in this league,” added Malm, the game’s first star. “It is a different feeling but you have to realize that every player in this league is a good player and they can score.”
One positive the team can take is the play of their power play which went 4-for-6, albeit against the worst penalty kill in the WHL.
“The emphasis has been on keeping it simple and not always trying to look for the prettiest play out there,” Malm said. “And it seems to be working for us.”
Vancouver will look for a third straight victory when they host the Red Deer Rebels on Nov. 15 at the LEC. Game time is 7 p.m.