KENT, Wash. — Beat Port-land! Beat Port-land!
Of all the chants the Rockets expected Wednesday night from the Seattle faithful, cheers about defeating the Winterhawks weren’t one of them. Yet that’s the scenario the Rockets are likely facing after erasing the Thunderbirds from the WHL’s playoff picture with a 5-2 victory at ShoWare Center. The result earned Kelowna a surprising sweep of Seattle in the best-of-seven, second-round series.
“(Hearing that chant) is good for us, because we’ll probably get them in the next round,” said Rockets forward Marek Tvrdon, who, along with defenceman Damon Severson had a goal and one assist in last night’s contest.
“It’ll be a tough series, for sure, but we’re happy we ended this series in four games. Now we get a long rest.”
While it’ll likely be Portland in the third round, that Kelowna booked its trip there in such short order was stunning. Most pundits predicted this series going six or seven games.
Four? No one thought that.
“I think all of us were expecting a big series, a long series,” said Severson. “But our team came to play all four games; we really set the tone and we took it to them. We had a great game (in Game 4) to finish it off. The fourth is always the toughest to get, and it was a great effort.”
Cole Linaker, Tyson Baillie and Nick Merkley also scored for Kelowna, as the Rockets rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to take a 4-1 lead before a late Seattle push. Ethan Bear, at 14:22 of the first with a power-play goal, and Sam McKechnie, at 15:12 of the third, replied for Seattle. Jordon Cooke made 42 saves for Kelowna, while Taran Kozun stopped 46 shots for Seattle.
Severson scored at 16:11 of the second, with Linaker making it 2-1 at 18:14. In the third, Tvrdon scored a beauty, breaking in between two defenders, then going roof short side to make it 3-1 at 12:46. Baillie pushed Kelowna’s lead to 4-1 at 15:00 on the power play, while Merkley closed out the scoring with a power-play goal into an empty net at 19:33.
The T-Birds had several chances to either stretch their early lead — their first of the series — or draw even, such as four-minute power play on a double-minor penalty to Ryan Olsen late in the second period that stretched into the third. In the end, though, a mix of Kelowna’s penalty killing and Seattle’s inept power play sealed the T-Birds’ fate. Kelowna finished the series 8-for-19 on the power play while Seattle was 2-for-22.
“We’re just happy with the way our guys played,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “It was good for us to get this done tonight.”
The secret to Kelowna’s success against Seattle was scoring when it mattered, that being either in the first five minutes of a period or the the last five. Of the Rockets’ 22 goals against Seattle, 14 were scored in those time frames. Four of those 14 were scored last night, including Severson’s goal at 16:11 of the second, then Linaker’s marker two minutes later at 18:14
“It was big for us to score at the end of the second. But up until that point, I thought we were playing well,” said Huska. “We had some penalties that we had to kill again, but we had a sense (the goals) were going to come. It was great that we were able to score the first one, but when Cole scored the second one, I think it took a lot of wind out of their sails.”
“I thought we played a fairly strong game, but their guys capitalized more than ours,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk told The Seattle Times. “Congratulations to them. They were the better team.”
ICE CHIPS: Kelowna’s scratches were D Dalton Yorke, C Kris Schmidli, RW Myles Bell (undisclosed lower-body injury, week-to-week). Seattle’s scratches were D Kevin Wolf, RW Calvin Spencer and LW Jaimen Yakubowski.