Kelowna Rockets eliminated the Wenatchee Wild in six Sunday

Rockets off to round 2

UPDATE 7:30 p.m.

The Kelowna Rockets will face the Prince George Cougars in the Western Conference semi-final series.

The Rockets advanced with a 4-2 win over Wenatchee Sunday to win their first round series in six while the Everett Silvertips shutout Vancouver 5-0 to close out that series.

Those results mean the Rockets will face the Cougars in the next round.

The series will being in Prince George with games one and two Friday and Saturday.

The series will then shift back to Prospera Place for games three and four Tuesday, April 16 and Wednesday, April 17.

A sixth game if necessary would also be played at Prospera Place Sunday afternoon April 21.

ORIGINAL 5:15 p.m.

The Kelowna Rockets are off to the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Rockets eliminated the Wenatchee Wild in six games, closing out the first round series 4-2 Sunday afternoon in front of a disappointing crowd of 3,501 at Prospera Place.

Andrew Cristall led the way with two goals and an assist while Tij Iginla had a goal and two helpers.

Iginla's goal was his eighth of the series, equalling a club record established by Geordie Wudrick in a seven game series against Everett in 2010.

Jari Kykkanen, the first star in each of the three wins at Prospera Place was again the best player on the ice, making key saves during the opening period when then Wild took the play to the Rockets and early in the second when Kelowna found itself two men short for a minute 42 seconds.

As has been the case for the past five games the Rockets were superb behind their own blue line, killing penalties, blocking shots, taking the body and getting in players faces.

It's a far cry from early in the season when the Rockets found themselves mired in a nine-game losing streak.

"What I'm most proud of and what I said to the players is everything we did to get to this point," said head coach Kris Mallette.

"Nobody gave us a chance in November when the days were dark, the days were long and these guys were working and just put our noses down.

"We still had our ups and downs but when push came to shove - the last month-and-a-half for these guys - this series we may have bent a few times but we didn't break and it's all because of the resiliency within that room not to be surprised by anything."

The Wild pushed early but it was the Rockets who got on the board first as Andrew Cristall and Kayden Sadhra-Kang played give-and-go before Cristall wired a one-timer from the right faceoff dot.

"We saw a break for that three-on-two. I saw Kayden come off the bench and tried to float it in there," said Cristall.

"I thought he was going to shoot it he made a pretty sweet pass back to me and I just had to put it in the air."

Iginla doubled the lead midway through the second directing Michael Cicek's pass at the side of the net.

The Rockets could have had four or five more that period but were unable to anything more past Daniel Hauser.

Wenatchee got one back before the end of the second on a two-on-one but goals from Cristall following a great strip by Iginla and Max Graham into the empty net sealed the victory.

"We are super excited. Everyone is really pumped, it's been a long time coming and we're glad to get it done at home," added Cristall.

As timely as the four goals were it was the penalty kill that really got the Rockets rolling, especially the early kill and the five-on-three early in the second.

"Our kill was phenomenal for the most part after game one. They may have scored some goals but we took away a lot from then," said Mallette.

"Today it was such a morale booster for our group, the blocked shots then the big saves by Jari when we needed them."

The Rockets will enjoy this series win then begin preparing for their second round opponent, likely the Prince George Cougars.

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