By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
This time, there won’t be a comeback.
It wasn’t easy and it took overtime, but the Kamloops Blazers made certain of that.
The Blazers managed to shake off the Kelowna Rockets 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday night at Interior Savings Centre, sweeping the visitors from the second round of the WHL playoffs.
Let the history books show that Kale Kessy’s second goal of the game and his 11th in 10 playoff games won this one.
With the Blazers on the power play — they were 3-for-11 with the man advantage, while the Rockets were, uhh, 0-for-1 — Kessy shook off a hit from Kelowna’s Ryan Olsen along the right boards and got to the net in time to redirect defenceman Joel Edmundson’s hard pass behind goaltender Jordan Cooke at 2:24.
The Blazers are into the Western Conference’s best-of-seven final for the first time since the spring of 1999, when they swept the Tri-City Americans before losing the championship final in five games to the Calgary Hitmen.
Kamloops will meet the Portland Winterhawks in the conference final, with the first games in Oregon on April 19 and 20. Yes, the Winterhawks, who completed a sweep of the Chiefs with a 5-0 victory in Spokane last night, and Blazers now will have eight days off.
The Rockets, meanwhile, will be off for a while longer than that.
The Rockets had fallen behind the Seattle Thunderbirds 0-3 in the first round, then had become the second team in WHL history to win the next four games and the series.
So you can bet the Rockets were grasping at that straw after a 5-4 overtime loss at ISC on Tuesday night left them in that 0-3 hole, again.
But this time there wouldn’t be a miracle. Almost. But not quite.
The Rockets, who were playing their sixth game in nine nights, did a lot of hanging around and hanging on last night. They took the game’s first six minor penalties, five of them in the first period. Although they gave up just one power-play goal, that to Kessy, they paid a steep price from their energy bank because they spent so much time defending and were forced to over-use their top guys.
Due to injuries, the Rockets had been trying to make do for the most part with five defencemen. By the end of the first period, the back-enders were almost on empty and the mistakes were mounting.
And the Blazers kept pushing. Hard. They held a 19-4 edge in shots after 20 minutes.
Still, the Rockets got some momentum eight minutes into the second period when they were given their first power-play opportunity. They didn’t score right then, but forward Tyson Baillie, back from a two-game suspension, pulled the visitors even at 12:48 when he beat goaltender Cole Cheveldave from 20 feet out in the slot.
By that point the Rockets were looking like they might make a game of it.
But that thought appeared to end when Kamloops forward JC Lipon, who scored the OT winner Tuesday and was dominant in this one, checked Olsen off the puck in the Blazers’ zone and turned around the play. Moments later, at 17:05, defenceman Marek Hrbas gave the Blazers a 2-1 lead.
And then, with 27.4 seconds left on the clock, centre Matt Needham scored off some good work by Cole Ully the Rockets really were in trouble.
But Kelowna survived three Kamloops power plays in the third period and got goals from J.T. Barnett and Cole Linaker to force overtime.
The Blazers, as they had done Tuesday, opened the overtime with energy and the result was that Kelowna defenceman Madison Bowey, in trying to clear the zone, inadvertently put the puck into the crowd. That, in today’s game, is a delay-of-game penalty.
The Blazers stormed to the attack on the PP, with Kessy beating Cooke on their seventh shot of extra time and their 45th shot of the game.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave stopped 22 shots and, as he did on Tuesday night, made at least half-a-dozen of the timely variety.
Early in this season, it was the Rockets who ended the Blazers’ franchise-record 14-game winning streak. Later, the Rockets skated past the Blazers and won the B.C. Division’s regular-season pennant.
But last night the Blazers sent the Rockets home for the summer and moved on to the conference final.
You know the Rockets would switch positions in a New York minute.
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,904. . . . Lipon had two assists and remains the only player in the WHL with at least one point in each of his team’s playoff games this season. . . . The Daily News Three Stars — 1. Kessy: Two goals in big game; 2. Cheveldave: Getting better each time out; 3. Linaker: Bright future. . . . The Blazers were without C Colin Smith for a third straight game. He suffered a suspected concussion early in the second period of Game 1. However, he is back skating and should be back for the start of the conference final. . . . Games 3 and 4 in the conference final will be at ISC on April 23 and 24. If necessary, Game 5 would be in Portland on April 26, Game 6 in Kamloops on April 28 and Game 7 in Portland on April 30. . . . Andy Clovechok, Mr. Hockey in these parts, celebrated his 90th birthday by attending last night’s game, with the lovely Molly, of course.
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