They only needed one point; they got two.
The Kamloops Blazers dumped the Prince George Cougars, 4-1, at the Sandman Centre on Friday night, setting up a first-round WHL playoff meeting with the Kelowna Rockets.
The Blazers, who have won eight straight games, went into the night in third place in the B.C. Division, four points ahead of the Cougars. Each team had two games remaining.
That meant that Kamloops needed one point to clinch third place and finalize the meeting with the Rockets, who will finish second in the division.
That best-of-seven series will start with games in Kelowna on Friday and March 26. Game 3 will be played in Kamloops, at Memorial Arena, on March 29, with Game 4 at the Sandman Centre on March 30.
If necessary, Game 5 will be played in Kelowna on April 1, with Game 6 at the Sandman Centre on April 2, and Game 7 back in Kelowna on April 4.
The Blazers announced the moving of Game 3 to Memorial Arena earlier Friday. The Sandman Centre won’t be available due to the IIHF World Women’s Championship. While the Blazers and Rockets are battling at Memorial Arena, Canada and Russia will be meeting at the Sandman Centre.
From a Blazers’ news release:
“Season-ticket holders will have the option to use their existing ticket for the game, or can also redeem their ticket for a credit to their account at the Blazers Box Office, if they are unable to attend.”
It is important for fans to know that there isn’t any assigned seating at Memorial Arena, so it all will be done on a first-come, first-served basis. Single-game playoff tickets are to go on sale Monday at 9 a.m.
Asked about playing in Memorial Arena, Blazers head coach Don Hay chuckled and said: “Wow! I thought we were gone from there forever. There obviously are a lot of memories there. It’ll be exciting. The fans will be right on top of us.
“It’s a small rink . . . when we practise there we’re running into each other quite a bit. It should be a physical game and it should be a quick game.”
The Blazers will move into the old arena on Monday and practise there all week.
Last night, the Blazers followed much the same script that they have used for the past couple of months — score a couple of goals and trust in goaltender Connor Ingram.
“He is playing really well for us. He’s just really steady for us,” Hay said of Ingram. “Connor made some key saves at key times for us. He gave us a chance to get the lead and we built on that.”
Ingram finished with 35 saves and was named the game’s first start. This was his 61st start of the season; he has been one of the three stars on 34 occasions.
The game was scoreless past its midpoint, when the Cougars, who are the WHL’s most-penalized team — they went into the game having taken 515 more minutes than the Blazers — ran into problems.
They took three minor penalties in a span of 1:47 and the home side made them pay with two power-play goals. Centre Gage Quinney scored his 29th goal of the season at 12:00 on a 5-on-3 advantage. Right-winger Matt Revel made it 2-0 with his 23rd at 13:08, just six seconds after another 5-on-3 advantage ended.
“We have a couple of different looks, which is good,” Hay said of his power-play units. “They challenge each other to perform. If one is hotter than the other, that’s the group that’s going to get more ice time. Everybody wants to be out there for that opportunity. I thought they came through with the goals at critical times.”
Centre Jansen Harkins got the Cougars on the board with his 24th goal, on a power play, at 18:52 of the second period, but that was as close as the visitors would get.
Left-winger Collin Shirley scored twice in the third period for Kamloops, the second into an empty net, giving him a team-high 37 goals.
Forwards Deven Sideroff and Garrett Pilon each had two assists for Kamloops. Pilon, who is in his first WHL season, had another terrific night and the two passes he made that led to Shirley's goal were veteran plays.
The Blazers (37-25-9) and Cougars (36-30-5) will conclude the regular season tonight in Prince George. The Cougars are 0-3-1 in their past four games.
Hay said he wants “a competitive team going up there,” but added that he will “try to get some of the guys who sat out (Friday) into the game.”
The Blazers will scratch “some guys who need the rest and are a little bit banged up.”
That will include centre Matt Needham, the team captain. He took a hit from Cougars defenceman Sam Ruopp — Hay called it a “hard, high hit” — just prior to Quinney’s goal. Ruopp was penalized for charging on the play.
After the hit, Needham was able to get to the net as Quinney scored. However, Needham then went to the dressing room and didn’t return.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 4,217. . . . The Blazers were 2-for-6 on the power play; the Cougars were 1-for-3. . . . G Ty Edmonds was solid for Prince George, with 33 saves. . . . Kamloops leads the season series, 5-3-1. The Cougars are 4-4-1. . . . The Blazers scratched G Cole Kehler, D Luke Zazula, F Jackson Shepard, F Erik Miller, F Spencer Bast and D Nolan Kneen. . . . The Cougars were without D Luke Zorko, F Aaron Boyd, F Kolby Johnson, D Josh Anderson and D Max Martin and F Adam Kadlec. . . . Prince George F Bartek Bison’s parents, Iwona and Peter, were in the crowd all the way from Amsterdam. . . . The Cougars will finish fourth in the B.C. Division and in the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot. That means they will meet the Seattle Thunderbirds, who will finish atop the U.S. Division, in the first round. . . . On Feb. 7, the Blazers were fourth in B.C., 11 points behind the Cougars. Since then, the Blazers are 14-3-1, while the Cougars are 5-9-2.
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