Carter Popoff (left) skates alongside an Edmonton Oil Kings opponent during a WHL game Wednesday in Edmonton.

Carter Popoff (left) skates alongside an Edmonton Oil Kings opponent during a WHL game Wednesday in Edmonton.

Giants take two of three games in Alberta

WHL team three points out of a playoff position in Western Conference

The Vancouver Giants continue to gain ground in the Western Hockey League (WHL) playoff race.

A three-game road trip to central Alberta didn’t slow the Giants, who won twice and are now 9-3-1 (win-loss-overtime loss) in the past four weeks.

After a 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings Wednesday (Jan. 6), Vancouver topped the Calgary Hitmen 5-2 Friday night then edged the Red Deer Rebels 6-5 in overtime Saturday.

Now at 17-21-5 on the season, the Giants have moved out of the Western Conference basement and are now within three points of a wild-card position.

The Oil Kings scored once in each period, and outshot the Giants 44-27 on their way to a win last Wednesday. Thomas Foster netted the only goal for the visitors, one which tied the game 1-1 late in the second period.

Friday in Calgary, special teams helped power the Giants to a win over the Hitmen. Veteran Chase Lang scored a shorthanded goal 14 minutes into the game, then assisted on Brennan Menell’s powerplay marker in the final minute of the opening period for a 2-0 Vancouver lead.

Ty Ronning tallied twice in the second period, which ended with the Giants enjoying a 4-1 advantage. Carter Popoff scored into an empty net with four minutes remaining in the game, then Calgary got one back with two minutes left to complete the scoring. Popoff also assisted on Ronning’s two goals.

Calgary outshot the visitors 36-31. Ryan Kubic made 17 saves in the Vancouver goal for the win.

The Giants found themselves playing against a Red Deer team which has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but escaped with a win Saturday. Lang netted Vancouver’s first two goals of the game, then Alec Baer, Dakota Odgers and Ronning added to the goal total. Ronning’s tally with 15 minutes remaining in the game put the Giants up 5-3, but two Rebels’ goals in the final minute forced overtime.

Ronning netted his second of the game four minutes into extra time, giving the Giants the win.

Kubic was a standout in the Vancouver goal, stopping 43 of 48 shots, including two in overtime. Vancouver directed 31 shots at the Red Deer net.

The Giants will be at home twice next weekend, before a pair of games early in the week south of the border. Vancouver will host  the Everett Silvertips Friday night at 7:30 p.m. then face-off against the Prince George Cougars Saturday at 5 p.m.

Monday, they visit the Portland Winterhawks, then move on to Kennewick, Washington Tuesday for a game with the Tri-City Americans.

BLUE LINES: The Giants made a couple of trades last week in advance of the Jan. 10 trade deadline. Vancouver sent 19-year-old defenceman Josh Thrower and a second round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft to the Moose Jaw Warriors in exchange for defencemen Tyler Brown, 18, and Marcus Kichton, 16.

“We’re bringing in a player in Tyler who has experience in our league,” said Giants Head Coach Lorne Molleken. “He’s a left-handed shot which is something that we’re short on at the point.”

Brown, a native of East Olympia, Washington, has three goals in 136 career WHL games. Kichton is currently playing with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.