VANCOUVER (CP) - The chilling prospect of a second straight overtime loss spurred the Vancouver Giants to a 4-3 win in extra time over the Plymouth Whalers to open the Memorial Cup on Friday.
After falling 3-2 in double overtime Monday to Medicine Hat in Game 7 of the Western Hockey League championship series, the Memorial Cup's host team didn't want to fall short again beyond regulation time, especially in front of over 13,000 spectators at Pacific Coliseum.
Kenndal McArdle ended the suspense at 5:06 of overtime. J.D. Watt threaded a pass from the boards to an all-alone McArdle, and the Florida Panthers prospect beat Whalers goaltender Michal Neuvirth for the winner.
"I think we knew the first game of the Memorial Cup was an absolute huge one," McArdle said. "It's really hard in such a short tournament to dig yourself out of a hole if you get in one right off of the hop."
Giants head coach Don Hay had stressed prior to the Memorial Cup how important winning the first one was.
"All of us were anxious to get back in our winning ways," said Milan Lucic, who scored a pair of goals." We knew how important this was to build momentum for the next game."
Michal Repik assisted on both goals by Lucic, a Boston Bruins' draft pick. Spencer Machacek also scored in front of an announced crowd of 13,428 at the 16,000-seat building. Attendance was announced as a Memorial Cup record for a round-robin game.
James Neal, a Dallas Stars prospect, had two goals and defenceman Ryan McInnis also scored for the Ontario Hockey League champion Whalers. Tom Sestito had two assists.
Giants goaltender Tyson Sexsmith stopped 30 of 33 shots for the win, while Neuvirth turned away 33 of 37.
The WHL champion Medicine Hat Tigers and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Lewiston Maineiacs square off Saturday (Rogers Sportsnet, 4 p.m. ET). Vancouver and Lewiston meet Sunday at 4:30 ET.
The team with the best round-robin record gets a bye to the final May 27. The second-and third-place teams meet in the semifinal May 25 with the winner advancing to the championship game. A tiebreaker game will be played in the event of a tie for third.
The Giants' confidence on home ice was evident as they threw their bodies and the puck around in the opening minutes of the game.
The Whalers were out of sync moving the puck up-ice in the first period, but gained confidence in the second by coming from behind to tie the game three times with power-play goals on three opportunities.
A scoreless third sent the tournament-opener into overtime. It was the second straight overtime game for both teams.
The Whalers beat Sudbury 3-2 in an extra period of Sunday's Game 6 in the OHL final series.
"I thought we started off slow," Whalers head coach Mike Vellucci said. "We got a little more comfortable in the second period and capitalized on our chances.
"I was happy with our effort. On the road, big crowd, set a record tonight. I thought we played pretty good."
With Whalers teammate Jared Boll providing the screen, McGinnis's shot from the blue-line sailed over Sexsmith's shoulder at 16:36 of the second period to even up the game 3-3.
Neal scored his second of the game at 10:25, driving hard to the net and harrying Sexsmith. The goal was reviewed by officials and allowed to stand.
Plymouth had trouble containing the speedy Repik, whose work deep in the Whalers' zone and along the boards twice gave Lucic an opening in the slot to beat Neuvirth in the second period.
Repik rushed the puck into the offensive zone and fed Lucic from the boards on his first goal of the game at 8:17 of the second. The two combined again as Repik fed Lucic from behind the net at 13:14.
"He was huge," Lucic said of his linemate. "That's what he needs to do for us to be successful. He was a big factor for us in the game and if he keeps it up, it'll be good for us."
Neal cruised in from the boards and beat Sexsmith with a wrist shot just inside the post at 7:26 of the second for his first goal of the night
Machacek parked himself in front of Neuvirth and re-directed Brendan Mikkelson's shot from the blue-line for a power-play goal at 5:41 of the first period to spark the support of the building.
Giants defenceman Cody Franson returned to the lineup after missing the last three games of the WHL final series with an undisclosed injury.
His return helped the Giants limit shots on Sexsmith in the opening period as Vancouver carried a 14-8 edge into the second. The Whalers gained ground in that department, however, and the Giants held a 32-30 edge at the end of regulation.
The Giants threw several hard checks in the opening minutes starting with McArdle hammering Brett Bellemore into the boards in the opening minute.
Vancouver's Watt, a Calgary Flames prospect, and Plymouth's Boll, property of the Columbus Blue Jackets, verbally sparred late into the first period and after Boll knocked Giants forward Tim Kraus hard into the boards, they took the opportunity to start a wrestling match.
CP Player of the Game - Giants forward Michal Repik helped increase his stock for the upcoming NHL draft. The Czech forward's speed and smarts generated two goals for linemate Milan Lucic and Repik also had a couple of good scoring chances in overtime.