The Kamloops Blazers fell behind early and could not close out the comeback Thursday at Sandman Centre, falling 8-4 to the Seattle Thunderbirds, who are now one win away from back-to-back WHL Western Conference titles.
"Little mistakes and breakdowns and they capitalized on it — it is what it is," Blazers captain Logan Stankoven said after the game.
"You can’t dwell on it now, you’ve just got to move past it. We’re down in the series 3-1, so we’ve just got to focus on one game at a time now."
Matthew Seminoff, Olen Zellweger (2) and Dylan Sydor were the goal scorers Thursday for the Blazers. Dylan Guenther (3), Kevin Korchinski, Kyle Crnkovic, Jared Davidson, Bryce Pickford and Reid Schaefer scored for the Thunderbirds.
The Blazers trailed 3-1 after the first period when Olen Zellweger tallied back-to-back goals 10 minutes apart to tie the score. The Seattle stepped on the gas, scoring three straight to put the game out of reach. Sydor and Guenther traded goals late in the third and Schaefer made it an 8-4 final with an empty-netter at 14:56.
Kamloops head coach Shaun Clouston described the game as "frustrating."
"I thought every time we got some traction and got close, they answered," he said. "I think we worked hard. You score four goals you should be in the game for sure, so we’ve got to check a little harder on the way back."
Stankoven said he, too, was frustrated by the way the Blazers couldn't seem to keep their foot on the gas.
"It sucks. You get all this momentum, you tie the game and then they score a couple shifts later," he said.
"We can’t be satisfied with tying the game up, we’ve got to keep pushing. We know that if we get them on their heels we’ve got to keep going."
Perhaps the most important goal of the night was one that was waved off in the second period for goalie interference. It would have tied the game 3-3.
The replay showed Zellweger was pushed into Thomas Milic. Stankoven, who scored the would-be marker, said he disagreed with the call.
"I thought it should have been a goal. I’m not too sure why it wasn’t," he said.
"It clearly showed Zelly getting pushed in — it’s not like he pushed Milic or anything. He was pushed into the net and I was there to clean up the rebound. Not too sure why that wasn’t a goal but it is what it is."
Dylan Ernst made 33 saves on 40 Seattle shots. Milic stopped 36 of 40 Kamloops shots to earn the win in net.
The Blazers scored once on six power-play opportunities. The Thunderbirds were scoreless on three chances.
Announced attendance at Sandman Centre was 5,506.
The T-Birds can clinch the conference championship with a win this weekend. Game 5 will go Saturday in Kent, Wash., with a 6 p.m. puck drop. If necessary, Game 6 would be played Monday back at Sandman Centre.
Stankoven said the Blazers know what they need to do.
"It’s a seven-game series — just one game at a time now," he said.
"We haven’t been able to win yet in their building, so we’ve got to steal one and then come back here and hopefully have another good crowd. We’re just going to have to battle and scratch and claw. There’s no quit in that group, we know that."
The Blazers had a couple chances to clinch the Western Conference championship last spring against the same T-Birds, and they failed to close it out. Stankoven said the team knows they're not out of it.
"We know that it can be done and we can come back," he said.
"I think that gives us a little bit of positivity. It’s a seven-game series, we’ve just got to focus on getting rested tomorrow and then coming back with lots of energy."
The Winnipeg Ice await the winner of the series. They swept the Saskatoon Blades in four games to win the WHL Eastern Conference championship.
The Blazers are hosting the Memorial Cup, which will get underway on May 26 at Sandman Centre.