There was no mistaking who the favourites and the underdogs were on Friday night at Prospera Place.
The B.C. Division-champion Kelowna Rockets lived up to their billing with a convincing 5-0 victory over the rival Victoria Royals in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series.
Jackson Whistle made 20 saves for his third shutout of the post-season, while Tyson Baillie had a goal and an assist as the Rockets won their fifth straight playoff game.
Defenceman Josh Morrissey, who was playing his first game in six weeks due to a leg injury, made an auspicious return to the Rockets lineup registering three assists.
“It took me a little bit to get into it, but the game hadn’t changed in six weeks, so I just tried to play simple and I thought our team played a great game,” Morrissey said. “When the team does that, it’s just easy to play my game, play simple and fit right in.”
Leon Draisaitl had a pair of assists, while Cole Martin, Gage Quinney, Rourke Chartier and Tomas Soutsal also scored for the Rockets who outshot the Royals 44-20.
Rockets head coach Dan Lambert couldn’t have asked for a much better effort from his club to open round 2.
“I thought it was a complete game from our players, from the goaltender out,” said Lambert, “We were really focused and did a good job, I thought our guys played real hard.”
Kelowna dominated from the opening face-off, outshooting the Royals 14-1 in the first period. However, thanks in large part to the work of Royals netminder Coleman Vollrath, the game remained scoreless through 20 minutes.
The Rockets finally broke through against Vollrath at 5:40 of the second when Draisaitl set up Baillie for his third goal of the post-season.
Then with just 23 seconds remaining in the second, Cole Martin took Nick Merkley’s pass and snapped a wrist shot high past Vollrath for Texas native’s first playoff goal to make it 2-0 after 40 minutes.
Quinney provided some insurance with his second goal of the playoffs eight minutes into the third. Chartier, with his team-leading fifth goal, and Soustal completed the scoring with power play goals.
Whistle wasn’t overly busy but made key saves when called upon, including one on a partial breakaway by Alex Forsberg with the game still scoreless in the opening period.
“It was huge, it was a moment where it could have really turned the game around,” Lambert said. “Sometimes you need your goalie to step up in those situations and it was a huge save by Jackson.”
Whistle’s three playoff shutouts are one shy of the Rockets’ team record of four set by Kelly Guard in 2003.
Game 2 goes Saturday night at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.