Reid Gardiner and the Kelowna Rockets eliminated Collin Shirley and the Kamloops Blazers from the WHL playoffs on Sunday night. -Image credit: Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze

Gardiner hat-trick sends Rockets to second round

Kelowna finishes Kamloops Blazers in six games move on in WHL playoffs

Reid Gardiner scored a hat trick to lead the Kelowna Rockets to a 4-2 win Sunday over the hometown Kamloops Blazers, sending his team into the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.

Gardiner, a trade deadline acquisition from the Prince Albert Raiders, snapped a 2-2 tie with just 1:57 to play to push the Rockets past their B.C. Division rivals in six games.

Down 2-0 late in third period, the Blazers battled back to tie the game with goals from captain Collin Shirley and Brodi Stewart just 57 seconds apart, at 16:49 and 17:46.

But 17 seconds later, Gardiner rebuffed the Blazers’ comeback bid, beating Connor Ingram on a cross-ice feed from Nick Merkley, putting Kelowna ahead to stay. Gardiner sealed the series with an empty net goal at 19:37.

“It was a good effort I thought, for the most part,” Gardiner said. “In the third they pushed, we faced a little adversity but we came out stronger for it in the end.”

Dillon Dube, with his fourth goal of the playoffs, opened the scoring for the Rockets, who outshot the Blazers 35-23.

The Rockets will face either the Portland Winterhawks or Prince George Cougars in the second round of the postseason.

The Winterhawks lead Prince George 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday in Portland.

Kelowna Rockets

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