The Kamloops Blazers may have been the prescription the Kelowna Rockets needed this past weekend.
The Rockets limped into a home-and-home set with the Blazers in a tail spin; a five-game losing streak that allowed the Victoria Royals a glimmer of hope in the race for first place in the B.C. Division.
Instead, Kelowna walked into Kamloops on Friday night and hung a 4-2 licking on the Blazers in game that was not as close as the scoreboard might suggest.
Then on Saturday, in front of 5,607 spectators at Prospera Place, the Rockets were full marks for its 4-0 drubbing of the Blazers.
“We played a pretty solid game,” said Rockets head coach Jason Smith. “We stuck with it and kept the game fairly simple. When we got a couple of goals up, we didn’t start chasing the game, which allowed us to stay ahead.”
The Blazers were eliminated from playoff contention on Friday and then on Saturday, played like a team that had little gas in its tank. The Rockets also did what they had to do to dishearten the Blazers, striking for a pair of first period goals.
Leif Mattson buried his 22nd of the season at 13:28. Carsen Twarynski was hard on the forecheck and created a loose puck inside the Blazers blueline. Dillon Dube picked it up, froze Kamloops starter Max Palaga, then dished over to Mattson for the finish.
Gordie Ballhorn put the Rockets up by a pair 62 seconds later.
Jack Cowell won a faceoff cleanly in the attacking zone and Erik Gardiner nudged the puck back to Ballhorn. The 20-year-old rearguard sifted a shot through traffic that eluded Palaga. For Ballhorn, one of only two Rockets to appear in all 69 games this season, it was his fourth of the season.
“It’s obviously nice to get off to a good start and play with the lead,” Smith said. “Some of the ups and downs we’ve gone through lately, it’s proof how important it is to start the game well and give yourself a chance.
“But then you also have to be able to stick with it and play a complete game.”
The teams played a scoreless second period, then Kelowna plunged in the dagger midway through the final frame.
With Kyle Topping in the penalty box, serving the Rockets second straight goaltender interference penalty, Mattson corralled a loose puck in the neutral zone and raced into the Blazers zone. Mattson faked a shot, waited for Palaga to commit, then ripped a shot five-hole for his second of the game and third shorthanded goal of the season at 9:46.
Kelowna closed out the scoring 79 seconds later when Dillon Dube got a piece of a weak shot from the point by Kole Lind, redirecting it just enough to fool Palaga. It was Dube’s 34th of the season.
The 4-0- verdict flattered the Blazers. In fact, if Palaga not had Dube’s number throughout the affair, it could’ve gotten ugly. The rookie goaltender, perhaps the Blazers best performer on the evening, absolutely stoned Dube on at least five occasions.
Palaga also shut the door on Liam Kindree in the second period, as Kelowna was awarded a penalty shot when a Blazers defender was tagged for throwing his stick.
With the win, the Rockets improve to 40-22-5-2, good for 87 points and a five-point lead on the Royals for to spot in the B.C. Division. Both teams have three games remaining, but the Rockets can clinch first place if the Royals cannot defeat the Prince George Cougars on Sunday afternoon.
Post Game Interview: Leif Mattson (click here)
Rocket Fuel…Kelowna outshot Kamloops, 31-18…Three stars were Mattson, Ballhorn and James Porter, who stopped all 18 shots for his third shutout…The Rockets are now 24-8-0-2 at home, 29-4-0-1 when leading after two periods and 20-7-2 against the B.C. Division…James Hilsendager, Wil Kushniryk, Kyle Pow, Nolan Foote and Roman Basran…Next home game for Kelowna is Wednesday night against the Cougars.
Milestones…Kole Lind eclipsed the 200-mark in career regular season games this past week. He has appeared in 202 regular season and 40 playoff contests…Dillon Dube also joined the 200-game club this past week and sits at 201 regular season games and 54 playoff appearances. Dube is the only member of the current edition who played on the Rocket 2015 WHL Championship team…Cal Foote played in his 200th career regular season game on Saturday, in addition to his 32 playoff appearances…Carsen Twarynski will likely reach the combined 300-games plateau during the post-season. He has played in 255 regular season games and 37 playoff matches. A total of 110 of those games have come as a member of the Rockets…Lind (Vancouver Canucks), Dube (Calgary Flames) and Twarynski (Philadelphia Flyers) have signed entry level contracts. For Foote, signing an ELC would seem just a formality at this point, as the Tampa Bay Lightning first round pick has been outstanding this season.
(DUBNetwork thanks Kevin Bain and the Kelowna Rockets for the audio/video)