Langley Rivermen strike down plucky Eagles in playoff opener

There’s no such thing as a garbage goal – especially in the playoffs.

For instance: three of the Langley Rivermen’s four goals during their 4-2 playoff win over the Surrey Eagles Tuesday at the Langley Events Centre weren’t worthy of any top 10 highlight-reel clips.

But once the puck crosses the opposition’s goal-line, it counts as a goal, and that’s all that matters to the Rivermen who took game one of the best-of-seven, B.C. Hockey League opening round series.

“The last two [goals of the second period] were hard hat mentality goals, but at this time of the year, we’ll take them however we can get them,” Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said.

The series is a mismatch on paper, pitting the B.C. Hockey League regular season champions and Mainland Division kings Rivermen against an Eagles team that struggled to fourth in the Mainland.

The Rivermen (37-13-3-5) finished 29 points ahead of the Eagles (25-30-1-2) in the division standings.

But this plucky Eagles team didn’t give an inch in front of a disappointingly small crowd of just 743 fans at the LEC.

They carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a goal from Anthony Conti 6:04 into the game.

The Rivermen rallied by scoring the only three goals of the middle frame.

The prettiest of the three was the first one, and came with Langley enjoying a man advantage. First-line centre Matt Ustaski found a soft spot in the slot and deftly one-timed a perfect feed from behind the net from his linemate and Rivermen captain Mitch McLain.

Eagles goaltender Bo Didur had no time to react as the puck whistled past him 2:51 into the middle frame.

The next two were of the blue-collar variety and came 11 seconds apart. In rapid succession, Rivermen forwards Marcus Vela and Evan Anderson swatted loose pucks past Didur to give the home team a 3-1 lead.

After Conti scored his second of the night with 2:26 to go in regulation, the Rivermen managed to hold the Eagles offence at bay.   

The Rivermen’s Jakob Reichert finished off the scoring by depositing the puck into the empty Eagles’ net just before the final buzzer sounded.

Desperate for the tying goal, the Eagles had pulled Didur from the net in favour of an extra attacker, giving Reichert a yawning cage to shoot at.

Henderson said the Rivermen had their work cut out for them Tuesday.

“I thought they played pretty good,” he said, regarding the Eagles. “They were right in the game all the way through. We did get nice break there, with the two quick ones [in the second period[. They played with a nothing- to-lose mentality and we played like had everything to lose. We had some nerves, which is uncharacteristic for us, but I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Game two of the series is tonight (Wednesday, March 5) at the LEC with a 7:15 p.m. opening faceoff.

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