After their second one sided loss of the series, the Calgary Hitmen find themselves in a do or die situation tonight when they head to Brandon to take on the Wheat Kings in game five of the Eastern Conference Final. 8-3 was the final score in game four, where the Hitmen saw a 1-1 tie quickly fall apart and were down 6-2 by the end of the second period. It was the second time this series that the team fell apart and let a game get away from them in a hurry. In game one, a 2-2 second period tie ended in a 9-4 win for the Wheaties and game 4 was much of the same.
So now the margin of error for the Hitmen is very slim. It’s do or die tonight at Westman Place in Brandon. If the Hitmen season is to continue and force a game 6 here is what needs to happen.
Jake Virtanen must be a factor
After missing the last three games due to a suspension that was widely debated across the league, the Hitmen will get sniper Jake Virtanen back in the lineup. The timing of the suspension was brutal for many reasons. Virtanen was playing his best hockey of the postseason after a great round two against the Medicine Hat Tigers. Virtanen has five goals and 13 points in the post season and Calgary hopes he can give their offense a boost when they need it the most. The biggest thing he might do is take the pressure off of Adam Tambellini who has had multiple Wheat Kings on him at all times this series.
The powerplay must be better
1 for 7…that was how the Hitmen did with the man advantage in game four. When you score once on seven opportunities with the man advantage, you probably won’t win many games. No Jake Virtanen, Connor Rankin and Chase Lang have definitely hurt the powerplay, but you still need to find a way to get something done. With Virtanen returning it could be the boost the team needs to get it going. If they don’t it could be the end of the 20th anniversary season for Calgary.
Hitmen must avoid letting the bottom fall out
Twice now in this series the Hitmen have had bad stretches in the second period that led to the Wheat Kings opening things up and running away with games. In game one it was tied 2-2 in the second period before Brandon was able to score four times en route to a 9-4 win. In game four, much of the same happened. With the score tied at one, the Wheaties would go on a 5-1 run to end the second period and go on to the 7-3 victory. If the Hitmen have any chance of extending this series, they will need to find a way to prevent that from happening again.
The start is crucial
Westman Place is a tough building to play in for the opposition. It can be loud and intimidating, and for the Hitmen, the key tonight will be to take that crowd out of the game early. Scoring first will help, but beyond that, not giving the vocal Brandon crowd much to cheer about all night will go a long way in helping them win. The longer the crowd is a non-factor the better chance we will see a game six on Sunday afternoon.
Game five goes tonight on Sportsnet 960 The Fan with Hitmen warm up at 6:00 pm and puck drop at 6:30 pm. If the Hitmen win this evening, game six will be Sunday afternoon at 4:00 pm at the Scotiabank Saddledome.