Down two games to none against the WHL’s regular season champs, bringing less than their best effort Tuesday night wasn’t an option for the Kelowna Rockets.
Tomas Soustal scored the game winner midway through the third period and Michael Herringer made 30 saves as the Rockets edged the Victoria Royals 3-2 in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal at Prospera Place.
The Royals now lead the best-of-seven series two games to one.
After playing two solid games in Victoria and coming up empty, Rockets head coach Brad Ralph said his team responded with an even better performance on Tuesday.
“I think the message was, we’re working hard, we’re playing well, we just have to ramp up our urgency a bit,” said Ralph. “I thought we certainly saw that tonight in our effort.
“The guys came out hard, I thought we did a great job getting pucks deep, we were physical on them and really put them on their heels. That was the start we needed.”
Rourke Chartier, who set up Soustal’s game winner, paced the Rockets attack with a goal and two assists. Dillon Dube also scored for the Rockets, while Matthew Phillips and Alex Forsberg countered for Victoria.
After missing seven games with an undisclosed injury, Royals’ captain Joe Hicketts returned to his team’s lineup and registered an assist on Forsberg’s goal late in the third.
But for the most part, Chartier said his teammates kept the Royals’ best player from getting any traction on Tuesday.
“I’ve been there before, coming back from injuries, no matter whether it’s been two months or two weeks, you’re a little out of game shape,” Chartier said of Hicketts. “I thought we did a pretty good job of getting up in his face. He’s one of the best D-men in our league, no doubt about that and I thought we did a good job.”
The Rockets opened the scoring on a 5-on-3 power play at 14:29 of the first period as Dube slid a shot along the ice past Coleman Vollrath for his second of the postseason.
Kelowna extended the lead just under four minutes later on Chartier’s third of the playoffs as Rockets centre redirected a pass from Cal Foote to make it 2-0 after one.
The Royals got on the board at 8:38 of the second as Phillips beat Herringer off a 2-on-1 to make it a 2-1 game.
In the third period, Soustal converted a Chartier pass for the decisive goal, his fourth of the playoffs, at 10:26.
With Vollrath on the bench for an extra attacker, Forsberg beat Herringer with a wrist shot with 68 seconds left to make it a one-goal game.
Herringer had one of his best games of the post season, which included key stops off Phillips in the first period and another off Jack Walker on a partial breakaway in the second.
“He made a lot of key saves for us when they made their push,” Ralph said of Herringer. “He was good and we’re going to need him to be good.”
Game 4 is set for Thursday night at Prospera Place, with Game 5 Friday in Victoria.