It looked for the longest time Friday night as though goaltender Connor Ingram of the Kamloops Blazers would have the last laugh, while left-winger Rihards Bukarts of the Portland Winterhawks would be left only with sore arms.
However, Bukarts finally solved the sophomore goaltender, albeit with 54.3 seconds left in regulation time, and the Winterhawks went on to beat the Blazers 3-2 in a shootout at the Sandman Centre.
The victory allowed Portland (13-13-0) to move within two points of the Blazers (12-9-4), who are seventh in the 10-team Western Conference.
By Bukarts’ reckoning, he had 10 scoring chances . . . that’s 10 really good scoring chances. As the 20-year-old Latvian
said, he doesn’t count “the muffins I put on net.”
“Every hard shot and scoring chance . . . all 10 shots were scoring chances and the goalie was good for them,” said Bukarts, a 20-year-old Latvian who was acquired last month from the Brandon Wheat Kings. “At the end of the day, we beat them, so I’m happy.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Ingram owned Bukarts until that fateful last minute.
In the middle of the third period, for example, Ingram stoned Bukarts three times. There was a chest save on a one-timer off a neat pass from centre Dominic Turgeon. Just 30 seconds later, Ingram got his blocker on a quick Bukarts shot from the high slot. Less than two minutes later, Portland won a face-off in the Blazers’ zone and Ingram made another blocker save on Bukarts.
A couple of minutes before the first of those afore-mentioned stops, Bukarts cut across the slot, had Ingram cold turkey and fired high and wide.
“He had lots of good chances,” Kamloops head coach Don Hay said of Bukarts. “It’s a good thing Ingram was there. He was our best player. Again.”
All the while, the Blazers were nursing a 2-1 lead.
“For sure, I get frustrated with all the opportunities I had to score a goal,” Bukarts said. “At the end of the day, I kept shooting and I scored.”
The Winterhawks outshot their hosts 16-3 in the third period, but the Blazers came awfully close to escaping with the two points. However, Kamloops centre Garrett Pilon was penalized for tripping Portland defenceman Caleb Jones at 18:48. The Winterhawks put goaltender Adin Hill on the bench and skated 6-on-4.
It wasn’t long before Bukarts rifled a shot from the left side that caught a piece of Ingram’s stick and trickled between his right arm and his body and into the net.
“I can shoot . . . I can pass the puck,” said Bukarts, who has nine goals. “I’m more of a playmaker but I had more chances to shoot the puck so I just took that option and kept shooting until the last seconds and I got one.”
After that goal, the teams skated through a scoreless five-minute overtime period — the Winterhawks failed to score on another power play after defenceman Ryan Rehill was penalized for tripping — and the game went to a shootout.
In the first round, the Blazers’ Deven Sideroff and Bukarts each scored on dekes to the forehand.
Portland defenceman Jack Dougherty scored in the second round, only to have Kamloops winger Matt Revel tie it in the third round.
Turgeon, shooting after Revel, thought he had won it when Ingram missed with a poke check but got his right pad on the puck, only to have it come to rest on the goal line. Or was it over by this () much? The call on the ice was “no goal” and the officials went to video review to confirm it.
How close was it to being completely across the line? “Close,” said Jason Rende, the video goal judge for this one.
Two rounds later, Rodrigo Abols, Bukarts’ Latvian sidekick, won it with a quick shot to Ingram’s stick side.
“The shootout is a different game,” Bukarts said. “We were the better team because we beat them.”
He wouldn’t get an argument from Hay.
“We were behind the play most of the night and chasing the game,” Hay said. “Portland had a lot of jump. I thought they were the better team tonight. We weren’t very good all night.
“Portland was a hungrier team than us tonight. Sometimes you take winning for granted at home and it came back to bite us tonight.”
Hay was especially disappointed in the lack of a checking game from his team.
“Portland outplayed us, in the third period especially,” he said. “We didn’t do a good job checking and when you don’t check you don’t create offensive opportunities. When you’re outshot 16-3, you’re playing way too much in your own end. We didn’t do a good job checking and we didn’t have really good composure with the puck. Hopefully we’ll learn from that and be better next game.”
The next game is tonight when the Blazers (12-9-4) entertain the Medicine Hat Tigers (7-16-3), who have lost six in a row, in the annual Teddy Bear Toss game. The Winterhawks, meanwhile, move on to Kelowna for a date with the Rockets.
Revel scored both regulation-time goals for the Blazers, giving him eight this season.
He gave the Blazers a 1-0 lead on a power play at 6:05 of the first period, only to have the Winterhawks get that one
back when Cody Glass redirected a point shot just 12 seconds later.
Defenceman Jackson Caller, a Kamloops kid making his WHL debut, earned the lone assist, giving him his first WHL point on just his second shift.
“It was good to get it over with,” he said with a smile.
Caller, 16, was a seventh-round selection in the WHL’s 2014 bantam draft. He suffered a broken wrist in training camp and, of late, has been skating with the junior B Revelstoke Grizzlies; in fact, he has two goals in two games with them. He is expected to stay with the Winterhawks until the Christmas break, at which time a decision will be made on his immediate future.
While Caller’s skating definitely is good enough to keep him in the league, like most younger players he needs to work on structure and positioning. He got caught on the wrong side of the ice when Revel scored to give the Blazers a 2-1 lead, at 15:14 of the second period. In fairness, Caller wasn’t the only Portland player chasing the puck as left-winger Collin Shirley fed a terrific pass to Revel who had only to tap the puck into the open side.
JUST NOTES: The announced attendance was 3,425. . . . The Blazers are 7-0-3 at home since losing 4-2 to the Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 23. . . . Ingram finished with 40 saves, eight more than Hill. . . . Kamloops was 1-for-3 on the power play; the Winterhawks were 1-for-5. . . . The Blazers welcomed back D Dallas Valentine from a six-game absence, and scratched D Conner McDonald, D Cam Reagan and F Matt Campese. . . . The Winterhawks were without F Paul Bittner, F Keegan Iverson, F Colton Veloso and D Carter Czaikowski. . . . Bittner and Iverson are two of their top six forwards. . . . Portland F Alex Schoenborn, another front-line player, returned from a five-game absence. . . .
F Cole Ully, who led the Blazers in scoring last season, has been reassigned from the AHL’s Texas Stars to the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. Ully, 20, had five points, including one goal, in 10 games with the Stars. On Friday, he had one assist in a 5-1 victory over the visiting Florida Everblades. . . . The move to the Steelheads is an attempt to find him more playing time. As a 20-year-old, he is eligible to be returned to the Blazers.
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