The WHL playoff plot thickened on Friday night, at least as far as it pertains to the Kamloops Blazers.
The Victoria Royals scored the game’s first four goals en route to a 4-1 victory over the visiting Blazers at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
The teams will play in Victoria again tonight (Saturday). The Blazers will conclude their weekend by meeting the Giants in Vancouver on Sunday, 5 p.m.
The Blazers had won their previous four games and were hoping to match the season-high five-game winning streak they put together from Oct. 28 through Nov. 7. However, it wasn’t to be.
While the Blazers (27-23-8) were losing, the other teams around them in the Western Conference playoff chase were winning, or at least picking up a loser point.
In Prince George, the Cougars beat the Red Deer Rebels, 3-1.
In Kent, Wash., the Seattle Thunderbirds scored a 2-1 OT victory over the Spokane Chiefs.
In Lethbridge, the Portland Winterhawks opened a six-game Central Division trip with a 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes.
In Kennewick, Wash, the Tri-City Americans beat the Everett Silvertips, 2-0.
It all left the Blazers and Chiefs tied for the conference’s two wild-card playoff spots. The Thunderbirds are five points ahead, with the Winterhawks, who are 4-0-1 in their last five games and are third in the U.S. Division, just one point out front.
The Americans, who have won three in a row, are just three points behind Kamloops and Spokane.
At the same time, the Blazers are fourth in the B.C. Division, but now trail the Cougars by six points.
In Victoria, the Royals outshot the Blazers 18-4 in the first period but were only able to put one puck behind goaltender Connor Ingram. That came at 5:59 when defenceman Joe Hicketts, a native of Kamloops, beat Ingram through the five-hole for his fifth goal of the season.
Victoria added two more goals in the second period, as forward Jack Walker got his 25th goal at 7:34 and forward Alex Forsberg notched his 24th at 13:01.
The Royals went ahead 4-0 at 9:05 of the third period, on forward Dante Hannoun’s 22nd goal.
Victoria goaltender Coleman Vollrath stopped 25 shots, losing his shutout bid at 16:22 of the third period when Kamloops captain Matt Needham scored his 16th goal of the season.
The victory lifted the Royals (39-16-6), who are 14-2-1 in their last 17 games, into first place in the B.C. Division for about 30 minutes, or until the host Kelowna Rockets finished a 6-5 victory over the visiting Giants. The Royals trail the Rockets, who are atop the overall standings, by one point.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 6,023. . . . The Blazers were 1-for-2 on the power play; the Royals were 0-for-3. . . . Victoria F Matt Phillips drew two assists. . . . The Blazers scratched D Nolan Kneen (knee), F Spencer Bast and F Matt Campese. . . . Victoria has taken five of seven games from Kamloops this season. . . . The Blazers are next at home on Feb. 27 with the Giants providing the opposition. Vancouver now is 14 points out of a playoff spot, with 13 games remaining.
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