Despite some nervous moments in the final minute, the Kelowna Rockets staved off elimination for the second straight game with a 4-3 victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds Saturday in WHL playoff action at Prospera Place.
The Rockets, who lost the first three games of the series in overtime, now trail the Western Conference quarterfinal three games to two.
Game 6 will be played Tuesday night in Kent, Wash.
Kelowna—beset by injuries to six players—controlled play for much of Game 5 and took a 4-1 lead into the final minute.
But the Thunderbirds made the game a little too close for comfort on goals by Seth Swenson at 19:23 and Robert Lipsbergs 19:34 of the third.
“We found a way to hold on,” Rockets head coach Ryan Huska told AM 1150. “We played a very good game for 59 minutes.”
The Rockets opened the scoring on a power at 10:50 of the first period as Damon Severson set up Tyson Baillie for his team-leading fourth goal of the playoffs.
Just 41 seconds later, Colton Heffley, left alone in front, converted a Tyrell Goulbourne feed for his first of the post-season to give Kelowna a quick 2-0 lead.
Dylen McKinlay spotted the Rockets to a 3-0 advantage at 12:20 of the second period, but just 1:16 later Alexander Delnov put the Thunderbirds on the board beating Jordon Cooke with a low shot on the breakaway.
Myles Bell restored Kelowna’s three-goal cushion at 13:49 of the third with his third playoff goal, setting the stage for an unsettling last minute of play.
Still, the Rockets remain alive in their opening-round series.
“We put ourselves in a tough spot and it will be a big test for us down there Tuesday,” he said. “But our group has that belief. We have to go down there and play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Battered by injuries, including the long-term loss of captain Colton Sissons, the Rockets announced Friday that two more players were lost to the team for six to eight weeks with upper body injuries—centre Rourke Chartier (undisclosed) and MacKenzie Johnston (shoulder).
“We’ve had injuries, but we’ve had guys who have stepped up for us,” Huska said.
Affiliate player and 2012 first-round bantam draft pick Nick Merkley dressed for his first playoff game as a Rocket and played sparingly.
Game 6 will be played Tuesday night in Kent, Wash., with a seventh game, if necessary, set for Wednesday, April 3 at Prospera Place.