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Kings return to playoffs after weekend sweep

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After two years of being on the outside looking in, the Dauphin Kings will play meaningful hockey games in March.
After losing 7-2 to the Winnipeg Blues, last Wednesday, the Kings ended a five-game homestand with a pair of 2-1 wins over the Steinbach Pistons. Combined with two losses by the Winkler Flyers, the two victories clinched Dauphin’s first Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoff appearance since losing a best-of-three Survivor Series to the Selkirk Steelers in 2015-16.
On Friday, the Pistons took a 1-0 lead with 54 seconds left in the second period.
It stayed that way until Leeam Tivers tied the game with 1:15 left in regulation. Riley Shamray then won it on a power play, 41 seconds into overtime.
While this was going on, Winkler was in the process of losing, 3-1, to the Steelers.
The next night, it was the Kings who took the lead in the second period, with Shamray and Avery Smith finding the back of the net.
Easton Bennett made it a one-goal game with 50 seconds left in the second period, but the Kings held on for the victory.
After beating Dauphin earlier in the week, the Blues did the Kings a favour by beating Winkler, 8-4. With Dauphin’s win and Winkler’s loss, the Kings became the sixth team to clinch a playoff berth this season.
Kings head coach and general manager Doug Hedley felt Wednesday’s loss was a carry over from the previous weekend, when the Kings were involved in preparing Credit Union Place for the Paul Brandt concert.
“The Paul Brandt concert wasn’t a great thing (for the Kings),” he said.
“I thought our first period was outstanding. Then we just didn’t carry through with it and got away from what our structure is and what our game plan is. The Blues, you’ve got to give them credit, they battle hard.”
Hedley said Blues netminder Jeremy Link, who made 46 saves, was the difference. The MJHL save percentage leader is playing some of his best hockey of the year, Hedley said.
“The Blues are rolling right now and they’ve got a good hockey club. They’re a tough hockey club to beat,” he added.
Just who the Kings will face in the quarterfinals is still a mystery.
The Kings remain in sixth place in the standings, but Winnipeg has the upper hand. They sit just two points back of Dauphin with three games in hand.
The Kings also have a slim shot at fifth place, sitting four points back of Selkirk. But like the Blues, the Steelers also have three games in hand.
Steinbach, meanwhile, is in a battle with the Swan Valley Stampeders for second place. They enter play on Monday, two points behind Swan Valley and the Stampeders have three games in hand. The Stamps are also just four back of the first-place Portage Terriers, with two games in hand.
The Kings were able to stay the course in both games against the Pistons, Hedley said.
“We were very good away from pucks. We didn’t give them a lot of chances. The odd time we broke down, we still found a way to get a stick on the puck. In the last 10 minutes, they came hard at us,” he said.
“The good thing about it is we’re getting better in the D zone. Guys found ways. A big block by (Ian) Tookenay on the penalty kill. Just little things like that win hockey games. When those guys stay the course and stick to what we want to do, we’re a good hockey team.”
When the Kings did break down, Ethan Slobodzian was there to shut the door, though he was not tested that often, as the Kings outshot Steinbach, 88 to 52 in the two games combined.
“He had an outstanding weekend. I’m glad to see it, because I know he won a series in the AJ last year for a reason. He’s a good goaltender and I’m just glad to see it. It’s a great time to turn it up,” Hedley said.
Getting into the playoffs is fantastic, Hedley said, noting the Kings can play with any team in the league. The team’s biggest challenge, he added, is being consistent with their good habits.
“Doing simple things. Getting pucks behind the d-man, making sure we shut down speed through the neutral zone and just getting it going. And I thought the last two games, back-to-back, were text book for us. That’s the way we have to play,” he said.
Even though the Kings are assured of a playoff spot, Hedley hopes they do not let up as the season winds down.
“Just keep on rolling. You can’t turn those switches off and on. It’s just a matter of if you get consistent, you’re playing well, guys are buying in to do what we have to do. It’s a great feeling right now,” he said.
Forward Kolby Johnson will be out of the lineup indefinitely after suffering a lower body injury against the Pistons on Friday.
The Kings have an easy week ahead with just one game that will be on the road against the Wolverines, Wednesday in Waywayseecappo at 7:30 p.m.

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Doug Zywina
REPORTER
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