The Kamloops Blazers were leading 1-0 and killing a penalty when the second period began Saturday night at the Sandman Centre.
Almost immediately, the Kelowna Rockets tied the score as right-winger Rod Southam scored into an empty side . . .
Kamloops goaltender Connor Ingram dove across the crease and somehow got the paddle of his stick on the puck, which bounced in the crease before skittering harmlessly away.
Four minutes later, the Blazers scored their second power-play goal of the game and they were well on their way to beating the Rockets, 4-0, in Game 6 of their best-of-seven first-round WHL playoff series.
The series now is 3-3 and they’ll play Game 7 at Prospera Place in Kelowna on
Monday night, with the winner advancing to meet the winner of a series between the Victoria Royals and Spokane Chiefs. The Royals hold a 3-2 lead there with Game 6 in Spokane tonight.
“It was the paddle . . . right above my blocker,” said Ingram after recording his first playoff shutout by stopping 26 shots. “He didn’t get all of it. That almost makes it harder. I took a little swing at it and got a piece of it. We’ll take it.”
Not only was it Ingram’s first career post-season shutout, it was the Blazers’ first playoff shutout since March 22, 2003, when Davis Parley blocked 22 shots in beating the visiting Kootenay Ice, 1-0. Kamloops played 62 playoff games between shutouts.
Southam had scored three goals on Friday night, as the Rockets beat the visiting Blazers, 4-0, to move to within one victory of the second round.
Southam said he took the shot “off my back foot and (it went) kind of off the toe of my stick. I thought it was going in . . . it was a great save with his paddle.”
Four minutes later, Kamloops centre Gage Quinney, who helped the Rockets to a WHL championship a year ago, scored his second power-play goal of the game to give the home boys a 2-0 lead.
“This series is a blast,” said Quinney, who added an assist to his two goals last night. He leads the series in assists (6) and points (9). “Playing against a former team . . . it’s a really fun series. It goes back and forth both ways . . . tons of fun.”
Asked about the goaltending situation in this series, Quinney replied: “Connor Ingram is something special. He is one of
the best goalies there is in the league, if not the best, and he’s been showing it the whole series.”
When it comes to talking about Ingram, Kamloops head coach Don Hay is almost out of adjectives. On this occasion, he could only smile as he recalled the save on Southam.
“That kept it at 1-0 and gave us a chance to get the second and third goals,” Hay said. “That was big. It was similar to the save he made in Game 2 when he went cross crease (to stop Dillon Dube).”
You may recall the Blazers won Game 2, 5-4, with two goals in the last 31 seconds of the third period.
“He’s a tremendous goalie,” Southam said of Ingram. “He’s tough to beat. You have to get to the paint and you have to work hard. You have to get those greasy goals.”
Which is pretty much what the Blazers did.
They opened the scoring at 7:55 of the first period, just 40 seconds after defenceman Cal Foote of the Rockets was sent off for roughing on Matt Needham.
Defenceman Ryan Rehill fired a shot from the mid-point and the rebound off goaltender Michael Herringer went to Quinney in front. His forehand attempt was stopped by Herringer, but the rebound came straight out and Quinney was able to lift a backhander high and into the net.
Then, at 4:20 of the second period, the Blazers had good possession on the power play and went to work in tight on Herringer. The sequence ended with Quinney putting another rebound behind the goaltender.
At 9:11, Quinney sent linemates Collin Shirley and Matt Revel in 2-on-1. Shirley kept and fired a shot that got through Herringer, who surrendered three goals on 13 shots. Shirley’s series-high fifth goal also sent Herringer to the bench with freshman Brodan Salmond sent into the fray. He would turn aside 19 of 20 shots in his second relief appearance of the series.
If Shirley’s goal didn’t signal the end, centre Garrett Pilon’s second goal of the series, at 12:21 of the third period, likely did.
If it didn’t, the fans did when they started chanting “Warm Up The Bus” late in the period.
“The building was crazy tonight,” Ingram said.
For the most part that was because of the way the Blazers played.
“We responded well after (Friday) night,” Hay said. “We had real good focus. Obviously, scoring first helps in this series. They gained a lot of momentum by scoring first (on Friday) and playing well throughout the game. We scored first tonight and played well throughout.
“And now we’re going to Game 7 and that is pretty exciting. It doesn’t happen very often.”
The Blazers last played in a Game 7 on April 18, 2012, when they dropped a 2-0 decision to goaltender Mac Carruth and the host Portland Winterhawks in a second-round series.
Only time will tell whether the Blazers will have defenceman Dallas Valentine in the lineup for Game 7. He went down in the neutral zone 51 seconds into the third period and needed help getting off the ice.
“We’re not sure,” Hay said of Valentine’s status. “He was moving a bit off ice. It looked like he kind of twisted. He was trying to turn and go get a puck. I’m not sure if he got bumped at the same time.”
If Valentine can’t go, freshman Conner McDonald, who has yet to play in this series, will get into the lineup.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 4,130. . . . The Blazers were 2-for-5 on the power play; the Rockets were 0-for-2. . . . In the previous three games, Kamloops had been 0-for-15 with the man advantage. The Blazers, now 5-for-30 in the series, were blanked in two of those games. . . . The Rockets were 2-for-6 on the power play in winning 4-0 at home on Friday. In the series, they are 2-for-25. . . . The Blazers scratched G Cole Kehler, F Matt Campese/F Spencer Bast, F Erik Miller and D Conner McDonald. . . . The Rockets scratched F Kole Lind, G Jackson Whistle (hip), F Nick Merkley (knee), F Conner Bruggen-Cate and D Braydyn Chizen. . . . Earlier Saturday, the WHL fined the Blazers $500 for what it says were the “actions” of an unnamed player “at Kelowna on April 1.” No further details were revealed.
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