Craig Cunningham (left) and the Portland Winterhawks have a three games to one lead over Colton Sissons (centre)

Uphill trek for Rockets

Kelowna trails Portland 3-1 in playoff series

Warren Henderson

Staff Reporter

As uphill climbs go, the one the Kelowna Rockets face is formidable, to say the least.

In order to prolong their Western Hockey League campaign beyond the second round of the playoffs, the Rockets must beat the Western Conference-champion Portland Winterhawks three consecutive times in a span of four nights.

The first step comes Friday in hostile territory as the Rockets visit the talent-laden Hawks in Game 5 at the Rose Garden in Portland.

Still, as daunting as it all may sound, captain Tyson Barrie isn’t ready to close the door on the 2010-11 season, let alone his days in a Kelowna Rockets uniform.

“Obviously the boys know what we’re up against, but there’s no quit in any of us,” said Barrie, a draft pick of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche who will, in all likelihood, play pro next season. “I think we’ve played right with them, things just haven’t gone our way. I’m definitely not ready to be finished. We know we can beat them, so we need to start Friday night and get it back to Kelowna for Game 6.”

Since stealing the series opener last Thursday in Portland, the Rockets haven’t had much success in muffling Portland’s big guns: namely Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter.

The pair of NHL first-round picks have combined for six goals and seven assists in the last three games—6-3, 5-4 and 4-2 victories by Portland.

Johansen supplied the backbreaker on Wednesday night in Kelowna, beating Adam Brown five-hole on breakaway with under four minutes remaining.

“We have to find an answer for No. 19 (Johansen),” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “He’s created the bulk of the offense for them, him and Niederreiter have pretty much been carrying them. We need an answer, something to slow them down.”

Still, as much misery as the Hawks duo has caused for Kelowna, Huska credits his Rockets for playing two solid home games without the desired results.

“We feel like with the way we played, we could have come out with two wins,” said Huska, whose Rockets trail Portland three games to one after sweeping Prince George in round one. “We thought we deserved better. We were one or two plays from getting momentum in all of the games in the series. We just need to keep battling.”

If anything gives the Rockets cause for optimism it’s their ability to grind out wins on the road. Kelowna had a better record away from home this season than at Prospera Place and, thanks to a 5-1 triumph in Game 1, proved they can win in Portland.

Huska assured that his club isn’t making the lengthy trek to Oregon just for an obligatory appearance.

“We still think this is doable,” he said. “We’re not driving all the way down there just to play a game…we’re going down there to win. We feel like we’re still in this.”

If the Rockets can find a way to solve the Winterhawks on Friday, Game 6 would be played Sunday, 5 p.m. at Prospera Place. A seventh and deciding game, if needed, would go Tuesday back in Portland.

whenderson@kelownacapnews.com