The Kelowna Rockets struck for two goals 47 seconds apart in the second period and went on to beat the visiting Kamloops Blazers 3-2 at Prospera Place on Friday night.
It was Game 1 of a best-of-seven first-round WHL playoff series. Game 2 is scheduled for tonight in Kelowna. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Kamloops, the former in Memorial Arena and the latter in the Sandman Centre.
The Rockets are the WHL’s defending champions, while the Blazers are in the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2013.
The Blazers went into the playoffs having won nine straight games, including three victories over the Rockets, two of them in Kelowna.
Last night, though, it wasn’t in the cards.
“They probably deserved to win tonight, and we have to be better tomorrow,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay told Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier. “It’s learning . . . we have to do a better job checking. They just had too many real
good rushes. They really use their speed and we were chasing the game a bit.
“We stuck with it, we pushed back and chipped away. We probably played our best in the last 10 minutes of the third period, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Defenceman Lucas Johansen, who scored one goal in 19 playoff games last season, struck twice for Kelowna, while forward Dillon Dube, who was listed as questionable before the game, added a singleton.
In 134 regular-season and 19 playoff games, Johansen had never before enjoyed a two-goal outing. He has 11 goals in 134 career regular-season games, 10 of them coming in 69 games this season.
Johansen opened the scoring at 15:48 of the first period, beating goaltender Connor Ingram through the legs after taking a nifty pass from winger Tomas Soustal.
Dube, who apparently suffered a slight injury while kicking around a soccer ball before the game, made it 2-0 at 6:20 of the second period, carrying the puck into the Kamloops zone, cutting across the front of the crease and beating Ingram with a high shot.
Johansen upped the lead to 3-0 just 47 seconds later, stepping into a drop pass from forward Calvin Thukauf and blasting the puck past Ingram.
Centre Gage Quinney, who was acquired from Kelowna in October, got the Blazers on the board at 12:32 of the second, beating goaltender Michael Herringer with a quick shot to the blocker side.
The Rockets nursed that lead deep into the third period, before left-winger Collin Shirley cut the Blazers deficit to one at 19:05. Quinney drew an assist on the goal.
“You could definitely tell we had nerves in the first five minutes, and then once we settled in, we started to play better,” Quinney told Fisher. “You have to be pretty happy about the push we had in the last five minutes, and build off that for tomorrow.”
Ingram finished with 33 saves, 14 more than Herringer.
The Rockets held a 15-8 edge in shots in the first period and 14-6 in the second.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 5,461. . . . Each team was 0-for-3 on the power play. . . . Eight of nine games between these teams this season have been decided by one goal. The Rockets are 6-2-1 in those nine games; the Blazers are 3-5-1. . . . The Blazers scratched G Cole Kehler, D Luke Zazula, F Jackson Shepard, F Erik Miller, F Spencer Bast and D Conner McDonald. . . . The Rockets were without G Jackson Whistle (hip), F Nick Merkley (knee), F Tate Coughlin, F Conner Bruggen-Cate and D Braydyn Chizen.
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