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Coquitlam Express look to flip the playoff script as series against Chilliwack begins tonight

The Express finished the 2022-23 regular season three points ahead of their conference rivals.
The Coquitlam Express and Chilliwack Chiefs battled for seven games in the opening round of last year's BC Hockey League playoffs. The Coastal division rivals meet again tonight (March 31) in the first game of their opening round series of this year's post-season.

If familiarity breeds contempt, tonight’s (March 31) opening game of the BC Hockey League (BCHL) playoff series between the Coquitlam Express and Chilliwack Chiefs could be a torrid affair.

The Coastal Conference rivals also met in the first round of last year’s post-season, where the seventh-place Express pushed the second-seeded Chiefs to seven games before succumbing 6-0 in the decisive game at the Chilliwack Coliseum.

This year, though, the teams’ roles are reversed.

It will be the Express that has home ice advantage in the best-of-seven series after the team finished fourth, three points ahead of the Chiefs.

Coquitlam and Chilliwack played each other eight times in the regular season; the Express won five and outscored the Chiefs 32-23 overall.

But four of the games were decided in overtime or shootouts, including the last two that were won 3-2 by the Express after the one-on-one showdowns between shooters and goalies.

Speaking of goalies, Coquitlam starter Adam Manji is still out of the lineup because of an injury he suffered in a game March 10 against the Trail Smoke Eaters.

Express general manager Tali Campbell said the 19-year-old netminder, who won 18 of the 37 games he started this season and posted a 2.99 goals against average (GAA), is still listed as "week-to-week." 

But, he added, "his progress has been incredible."

Since Manji went down, backup Brady Smith has won four of the five games he started. Although he was lit up for seven goals by the Power River Kings in Coquitlam’s last game of the regular season last Sunday (March 26).

Overall, Smith finished the season with 10 wins and seven losses in 18 games and posted a 3.26 GAA.

Campbell also said while a flu bug ripped through the team during the week, no other major lineup changes are anticipated for the game that starts at 7 p.m. at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex.

Game two is scheduled for Saturday (April 1), 7 p.m., also at Poirier, before the best-of-seven series heads to Chilliwack for games three and four on Tuesday and Wednesday (April 4-5) at 7 p.m.