Late goal sinks Rockets

It's becoming an all too common theme in this WHL Western Conference final series.

The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds appear headed to overtime, only to have the T-Birds score in the dying seconds to pull out a victory.

Friday the winner was scored with 11.2 seconds left. Tuesday, Keegan Kolesar pulled the trigger with exactly 20 ticks left, giving Seattle a 2-1 win and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"It is frustrating. We created opportunities around the net tonight and didn't capitalize," said Rockets head coach Jason Smith.

"We have to be better at the end of those periods, and at the end of the game. It's a little bit deflating, obviously, but we have to be bouncing back and ready to go tomorrow."

On the game winner, Mathew Barzal beat Calvin Thurkauf on the faceoff, drawing the puck back to Turner Ottenbreit at the left point. His shot hit a skate and deflected to Kolesar who spun around and beat Michael Herringer to the far glove side.

It was just Seattle's 14th shot of the game.

"It's always frustrating to lose in the last minute. It happened down in Seattle already and now here," said Thurkauf.

"I think we can learn from these."

Thurkauf scored the lone Rockets goal when he batted the puck past Carl Stankowski from the edge of the crease near the end of a five-on-three power play.

Nick Merkley's initial shot missed the net, hit the glass and bounced over the net to Thurkauf.

Video replay officials took about four minutes to determine his stick was just below the level of the crossbar.

Thurkauf said there were some anxious moments on the bench during the review. He admitted it was close.

The goal came during the Rockets seventh straight power play opportunity. It was also their best chance of the seven.

"We got outworked, got off playing with structure and playing as units of five," said Smith of his team's power play Tuesday.

"We didn't compete hard enough to score goals. Their penalty killers outworked out power play guys."

And Stankowski, who just turned 17 six weeks ago, was brilliant.

Despite having the better of the play and the chances throughout the game, the Rockets managed just the one goal.

"He played a heck of a game, no doubt about it. But, it's still a team win," said Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk.

"Our guys had to buckle down when they needed to and find that gear when the could have hung their heads. They found a way. Good job by our goalie, but good job by a lot of our guys in that locker room."

His best save came off Thurkauf in the second period. The Swiss native raced down the left wing, drove his defenceman wide, cut to the net, but Stankowski was able to get a toe on the shot just as it was about to cross the line.

Kolesar scored the other Seattle goal just past the midway point of the second period.

Off a faceoff in the Seattle end, Ryan Gropp was able to chip a puck past a Rocket defecnceman at the blueline, creating a two-on-one. He fed a perfect pass to Kolesar, who deflected it past Herringer with half a net to shoot at.

Kolesar also hit a couple of post during the middle frame.

Game four in the series goes Wednesday night at Prospera Place.

Game five is set for Seattle Friday night, with a sixth game, if needed, back in Kelowna Sunday at 5 p.m.

Notes: Another fan bus is scheduled to leave Kelowna for Seattle Friday morning. Cost is $160. For information, contact Chantelle LaBrie at [email protected]


Rockets home, series tied

The Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds resume their Western Conference championship series this week at Prospera Place.

The third and fourth games of the best-of-seven are set for Kelowna Tuesday and Wednesday night.

The two teams head north after splitting the opening two games in Seattle.

Friday, the T-Birds won the opener 5-4, scoring the winner with less than 12 seconds left in regulation time.

The Rockets responded the following night with a 4-3 overtime victory.

Given how evenly matched the two teams are, Rockets head coach Jason Smith says the split wasn;t a surprise.

I think they were both good hockey games. There were some momentum swings both ways where both teams had generated opportunities to score and I think both teams competed extremely hard," said Smith.

After suffering a loss from a late goal in game one, Smith says the response from his team was excellent.

"The way the first game ended was obviously the way you don't want a game to end.

"You never want to give up a goal late in a period or late in the game. I thought our group did a great job bouncing back. We started game two really well... we played with focus, we played with poise, and we played with a high compete level."

Speaking of a high compete level, Rockets forward Reid Gardiner is still red hot, scoring a goal and adding two assists in game one, and scoring another two goals in game two, including the overtime winner.

The two goals on Saturday established a new Rockets franchise record for goals in a single playoff season with 15. That surpasses the mark of 13 established by Jamie Benn is 2009.

Gardiner leads all playoff scorers with 15 goals and 12 assists in just 13 games..

Calvin Thurkauf has also turned up the heat. After recording just two assists in the first round against Kamloops, Thurkauf has since recorded six goals and 10 assists over the following seven games.

Thurkauf had four primary assists in the game two victory.

Regardless of the outcome of the next two games, a fifth game in the series will be played back in Seattle Friday.

Should a sixth game be necessary, it would be played back in Kelowna Sunday afternoon.

Rockets even series

Reid Gardiner scored the game winner and Calvin Thurkauf assisted on all four goals as the Kelowna Rockets evened their best-of-seven Western Conference final with the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Gardiner beat Carl Stankowski upstairs from in close after stealing the puck off Keegan Kolesar, giving the Rockets a 4-3 overtime victory, and a split of the first two games in Seattle.

The win snapped the T-Birds nine-game playoff winning streak, and was their first in six games over Seattle in the post season, dating back to last year's Western Conference final.

On the winner, Gardiner tapped the puck away from Kolesar in the left faceoff circle, then took a pass back from Thurkauf, cut towards the front of the net and beat a surprised Stankowski high blocker side.

The Rockets had control of the game through 40 minutes, twice holding two-goal leads, but squandered that before the middle of the third. They had a great chance to get the winner late in regulation time when Sami Moilanen took a double minor after clipping Devante Stephens with a high stick.

However, a goaltender interference call on Nick Merkley squandered two of those minutes, and the T-Birds smartly killed the rest.

In fact, undisciplined penalties almost cost the Rockets a second straight game in Seattle. as the T-Birds scored on two of their five opportunities.

Merkley and Gardiner with a shorthanded goal with less than a second left on the clock gave the Rockets a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Ethan Bear got one back on a Seattle power play before Kole Lind restored the two goal lead in a Kelowna power play with less than a minute left in the second.

Goals from Kolesar on the power play and Donovan Neuls tied it, forcing overtime.

With the series tied at a game apiece, the two teams now venture north for games three and four at Prospera Place Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Eastern Conference final is also tied at a game apiece after Regina edged Lethbridge 3-2, also in overtime.

Last goal sinks Rockets

Goals in the dying seconds of the final two periods were too much for the Kelowna Rockets to overcome.

The Seattle Thunderbirds scored with 3.2 seconds left in the second, and the game winner with 11.2 ticks left on the clock in a thrilling 5-4 victory in the opening game of the Western Conference final at the Showare Centre in Seattle.

The Rockets battled back from a 4-2 third period deficit with power play goals from Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf, but a delay of game penalty with two minutes to go in regulation time gave the T-Birds one last chance to get the winner before time expired.

With just 11.2 seconds left in regulation, Ethan Bear fired a one-timer from the left circle high, blocker side past Michael Herringer for what proved to be the game winner.

The goal came moments after rookie Carl Stankowski stopped Devonte Stephens chance while shorthanded.

The game was tie 1-1 after the opening period. Ryan Gropp opened the scoring 10 minutes in for the T-Birds, before Kole Lind deflected home a power play with seven ticks remaining in the first.

Reid Gardiner snapped the tie with his playoff leading 13th 1:09 into the second.

Alexander True got that one back in the dying second of the second.

Two goals, three minutes apart early in the third put the T-Birds up two, before the Rockets battled back, only to fall in the dying seconds.

Gardiner had two assists to go with his goal. Sami Moilanen had a goal and two helpers for the Thunderbirds.

The Rockets were 3-6 with the man advantage, while the Thunderbirds were 1-2.

Seattle has now won nine straight in the post season after sweeping their opening two series.

The teams meet up again Saturday in Seattle before the series shifts to Kelowna for games three and four next Tuesday and Wednesday.

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