Rockets take game 1 thriller
It's not how you start - it's how you finish that counts.
The Kelowna Rockets fell behind 3-0 early, survived a video review and roared back for a thrilling 5-4 win over the Portland Winterhawks in game one of the WHL's Western Conference final.
The Winterhawks built up the 3-0 lead on five shots before the game was 13 minutes old thanks to a goal in the game's opening minute and a pair of power-play markers.
Tyson Baillie got one back when his wrist shot on a delayed penalty from the right circle beat Brendan Burke to the far side.
Madison Bowey's fourth of the playoffs shorthanded with less than a minute to go in the first cut the deficit to one.
The Winterhawks appeared to make it 4-2 just as the period expired, however, a video review showed the front edge of the puck just got to the goal line as time expired negating the goal.
Rockets head coach Ryan Huska says the events of the final minute seemed to tip the game in the Rockets favour.
"If that goes in there is potential for that to deflate us. But I thought we got better as the game went on," says Huska.
"We just started playing a little bit steadier. Not as many turnovers as we had early on in the game which I think has a lot to do with some anxious energy a lot of our players had."
The team traded goals in the second period before the Rockets came out and dominated the final 20 minutes.
Justin Kirkland tied it 4-4 deflecting home Bowey's point shot on a Rockets power-play 4:17 into the third.
Jesse Lees brought the sellout crowd of 6,218 out of their seats 1:42 later when he tapped home a rebound.
Lees, a converted defenceman playing up front knocked in his first of the playoffs after Burke had made a nice save off Baillie's initial shot.
The Rockets had a couple of glorious chances to widen the lead. Ryan Olsen hit the cross bar on a partial breakaway and Burke stopped Baillie all alone in close.
"It wasn't the start we wanted but we definitely bounced back nicely," said captain Madison Bowey who had an assist to go with his goal.
"A lot of the older guys really stepped up and got on the body and we started playing our game. We'll take those wins and it's a huge win in the first game of the series."
Huska thought the Rockets played well in the opening period but stressed they need to stay out of the penalty box.
"Absolutely, that's a key to this series. They move pucks around really well - as good as anybody," said Huska.
"Some penalties you have to take over the course of a game but the ones you take in the offensive zone are killers especially if they are not physical ones. They scored on both of those on us. We have to make corrections in that area for sure."
The game deteriorated over the final seconds with everyone on the ice jostling with one another.
Winterhawks Nic Petan took a checking to the head minor as time expired which the league will likely take a look at.
"It's going to be a battle this series. It's the conference finals, we don't like each other. It happens, it's hockey," said Baillie of the skirmish at the end.
The Rockets outshot Portland 36-26 including 14-4 during a dominating final 20 minutes.
"I felt like we didn't allow them many opportunities," said Huska of the final 20 minutes.
"They are going to get their opportunities, they're a very good team but I liked the way our guys responded. I thought we played a pretty good third period, probably our best of the night."
Game two in the series goes Saturday at 7 back at Prospera Place.
The series then shifts to Portland for games three and four Tuesday and Wednesday.
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