The Kelowna Rockets are experiencing their own version of March Madness.
With the WHL playoffs just around the bend, it’s the last month Dan Lambert would choose for his team to slide into a slump.
The Rockets, who will close out the regular season with two games this weekend against the Vancouver Giants, have lost three of their last four games and five of the last eight.
A 3-2 overtime defeat at home Wednesday to a fatigued Seattle team was particularly distressing for the Rockets’ head coach who saw too many veterans treating the game with a disturbing degree of nonchalance.
“We had many, many passengers,” Lambert said of his team’s effort against the Thunderbirds, who beat Kelowna in three of four meetings this season. “It’s very disappointing.”
Lambert will be demanding better this weekend, as the Rockets visit the Giants Friday, then return home to close out the regular season Saturday night against Vancouver.
The Rockets may be comfortably atop the B.C. Division and Western Conference standings, but Lambert said it means little if his team isn’t playing the right way heading into the playoffs.
“The last time I checked the season was 72 games, not 70, not 69 and not 60,” said Lambert. “And if we think it’s a switch and we’ll just turn it on and all of a sudden come Friday things will be great, we’ve got another thing coming.”
Forward Tyson Baillie agreed it’s imperative the Rockets get their game back on track against Vancouver.
“Get these two games and then focus on the playoffs,” said Baillie. “We’ve got to finish these two games strong and focus on the little details that are going to help us win in playoffs.”
With two games remaining for each team, the Rockets (51-13-5-1) trail the Brandon Wheat Kings (52-11-4-3) by three points for first overall in the WHL.
On the upside, the Rockets are gradually returning to health for the post-season. Forward Tyrell Goulbourne was back in the lineup Wednesday after missing two games with a lower body injury.
Defenceman Josh Morrissey and forward Justin Kirkland, both with lower body injuries, remain sidelined on a week-to-week basis.
Meanwhile, centre Rourke Chartier scored his team-leading 48th goal of the season on Wednesday night to move to within two of a rarely-achieved Rockets’ milestone.
The last Rocket to score 50 goals was Justin Keller who notched 51 during the 2005-06 WHL season.