You know how hypnotists work it, getting inside someone’s head to help them stop smoking?
Well, something similar has happened in the WHL playoff series between the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers.
Kamloops goaltender Connor Ingram has gotten into the heads of the Rockets and they’ve quit scoring.
Ingram, who turns 19 today while Gordie Howe turns 88, made 37 saves on Wednesday night as the Blazers whipped the Rockets, 5-1, to even their best-of-seven first-round series, 2-2.
The series will continue with Game 5 in Kelowna on Friday night. They’ll be back in Kamloops for Game 6 on Saturday evening.
Make no mistake about it — fans witnessed a beatdown last night in the big house.
With Ingram again at his best, as he has been in virtually every appearance this season — when was the last time he struggled? — the Blazers dominated the Rockets.
The defending champions looked to be a frustrated and demoralized bunch as they left the ice at game’s end. Of course, not much went right for them on this night.
“At this point,” Kelowna head coach Brad Ralph said, “throw the confidence out the window. We’ve got to get to work. We got to earn it every shift and, until we do, it could go either way.”
The Rockets, remember, finished third in the WHL’s overall standings, their 100 points 15 more than the Blazers had. Of course, the Blazers made a lot of noise down the stretch by winning nine straight games.
Still, this series is 2-2 and Kelowna still has home-ice advantage. Game 7, if needed, would be played there on Monday.
The Blazers’ dominating performance came one night after the Rockets beat them 1-0 before 3,400 fans in Memorial Arena.
“We were nervous . . . a big crowd and a small rink,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said in reference to Tuesday’s game. “There was so much buildup for that rink. Kelowna played a real solid Game 3 and we played a real solid Game 4.
“We were really excited about the start, to get up a couple of goals and play with confidence. I thought we rebounded
really well from (Tuesday) night. We had really good focus on getting off to a good start.”
Right-winger Matt Revel of the Blazers, who had a goal and two assists, admitted he and his mates were thrilled to get back to the larger ice surface.
“After getting shut out in front of a large crowd in Memorial Arena, we were really hungry to get at it tonight,” he said. “We did a great job of getting on them from the start and we pushed the pace. For the first time we were leading and we played really well with the lead.”
The Blazers scored twice in the first 5:02 of the opening period and were able to take a 3-1 lead into the second period.
They also took advantage of some shaky goaltending by Kelowna’s Michael Herringer, who had stopped 40 shots in Game 3.
“You need your goalie to step up and make saves, and we didn’t get those saves tonight,” Ralph told Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier. “When you look at the other end, we’re not scoring a lot of goals, so we’ve got to be able to keep it close.”
Defenceman Dallas Valentine got the game’s first goal, getting a low point shot through Herringer at 3:55. It was the first time in the series that Kamloops has scored first.
At 5:02, forward Quinn Benjafield took the puck behind the Kelowna net, came out by the left post and stuffed it between the pipe and Herringer’s right skate.
Kelowna forward Calvin Thukauf cut the deficit in half at 15:03, scoring off a nifty Tyson Baillie pass after the Rockets won an offensive zone faceoff.
The Blazers answered just 2:42 later, with what was the game’s biggest goal, as Herringer put the rebound of a Revel
shot right on Collin Shirley’s tape. Shirley, who led the Blazers with 37 regular-season goals, buried it for his third goal of the series.
“The third goal was very important for us,” Hay said. “They had made it 2-1 and we got a third goal later in the period. That gave us a little more breathing room going into the second.”
From that point on, whenever the Rockets appeared to be on the verge of something, Ingram snuffed out their candle.
“Ingram has been good for us all season long and he has just continued that into the playoffs,” Hay said. “He hasn’t been a surprise for how he’s played. We need him to play like that for us to have success.”
Asked if he could recall the last time Ingram didn’t play well, Hay laughed and replied: “Game 2 against Kelowna.”
No, he didn’t mean Game 2 of this series. He meant the second game of the regular season. That was on Sept. 26, when the visiting Rockets skated to a 7-3 victory.
When it was suggested to Revel that Ingram is in the heads of the Kelowna shooters, he agreed.
“Yeah. For sure,” he said. “He’s been in a lot of teams’ heads this season. He just seems to keep playing the way he can. We have a lot of confidence in him back there. He just keeps playing real well for us.
“I don’t even remember the last time he didn’t play well.”
Yes, Ingram was the game’s first star. He has received that honour so often this season — 18 times — that they should name it in his honour.
Revel and his linemates, Shirley and Gage Quinney, also played well. Hay reunited them in the hopes of finding some magic.
“We thought we had to make a little bit of a change,” Hay said. “We weren’t able to create much (Tuesday) night so we wanted to make a change. Sometimes when you make that change it really gets guys excited. That whole line played well for us.”
Revel quite enjoyed his new linemates; he had been playing with Quinney and Jake Kryski.
“I love playing with (Shirley and Quinney),” Revel said. “We had a lot of success earlier in the season. I think Don wanted to get a little spark after getting shut out (Tuesday) night and it paid off. We came out and we had a good offensive night.
“Anytime he throws us together, I know he is expecting what he saw in November and December. We knew we had to get on the offensive side of the game.”
Revel scored the home team’s fourth goal, at 7:58 of the second period, and Shirley got his second of the game and fourth of the series at 13:33 of the third.
Shirley also had an assist, while Quinney drew two of them.
“We focus on getting pucks to the net and getting to the goalie,” Shirley said. “Any time you can get to the net good things are going to happen.”
Shirley then explained things this way: You go to a grocery store for groceries; you go to the net for goals.
“At least that’s my theory,” he said.
It’s a theory that he and the Blazers will test again Friday in Kelowna.
“We have to play the same way,” Revel said. “Start the same way and keep pushing the pace like we did tonight. We’ve been behind both games in their arena. The real important thing is to try and get that first goal and keep pushing the pace.”
Prior to Tuesday night, the Blazers had never lost a playoff game by a 1-0 score. They won the only other 1-0 playoff game in which they were involved. That was on March 22, 2003, when G Davis Parley stopped 22 shots and F Casey Lee scored the lone goal in a victory over the Kootenay Ice. . . . For Kelowna, Tuesday’s shutout was the first playoff blank job on the road since Jordon Cooke stopped 25 shots in beating the host Seattle Thunderbirds, 5-0, on March 27, 2013.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,907. . . . The Blazers were 0-for-4 on the power play; the Rockets were 0-for-2. . . . Kelowna now is 0-for-17 on the PP in the four games. . . . The Blazers made their first lineup change of the series, inserting F Spencer Bast in place of F Matt Campese. They also scratched G Cole Kehler, F Erik Miller and D Conner McDonald. . . . The Rockets went without G Jackson Whistle (hip), F Nick Merkley (knee), F Tate Coughlin, F Conner Bruggen-Cate and D Braydyn Chizen.
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