The Kelowna Rockets erased a three-goal deficit to win game one of the WHL western conference championship series 5-4 in front of a sellout crowd at Prospera Place Friday night.
The Portland Winterhawks took control of the game early, scoring twice on the powerplay and earning a 3-0 lead in the first period.
Portland right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand opened the scoring 33 seconds into the game, backhanding a rebound past a sprawling Jordon Cooke.
Bjorkstrand scored his second goal of the night five minutes later on the ‘Hawks first powerplay. Chase De Leo added another powerplay goal midway through the opening frame.
After allowing three goals, Cooke kickstarted Kelowna’s offence with a stretch pass to Justin Kirkland. Kirkland found Tyson Baillie who buried his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Rockets’ captain Madison Bowey added a shorthanded goal late in the first period to bring Kelowna within one.
Portland nearly made the game 4-2 as they put the puck into the Rockets’ net fractions of a second after the buzzer sounded to end the first period.
“It wasn’t the start we were looking for, but I think we definitely bounced back nicely,” said Bowey.
Rockets’ head coach Ryan Huska said his team “did a lot of good things” early in the game, despite going down 3-0.
“I felt like (Portland) really capitalized on their chances when they had them,” said Huska.
“I know it wasn’t the start Jordon (Cooke) wanted, but it was great to see him really settle in and be great for us the rest of the way.”
Defenceman Keoni Texeira scored his first of the playoffs to give the Winterhawks a brief two-goal lead in the second period before Rourke Chartier scored less a minute later to close the gap to 4-3.
Kelowna dominated the final 20 minutes, outshooting Portland 14-4.
Justin Kirkland tied the game with a powerplay goal 4:17 into the third period; just over a minute later, Jesse Lees netted the game winner.
“That’s playoff hockey,” said Baillie, the game’s first star with one goal and two assists.
“We go down 3-0 early, (but) the type of team we have, we come back.”
Huska recognized the efforts of the 6,218 spectators who helped motivate his team throughout the series opener.
“I thought it was great—best crowd since maybe ’09,” said Huska.
“They had a lot of energy in the building and I think even though we got down early on…we felt like we were still kind of in it. A lot of that had to do with the building.”
The Rockets’ bench boss said a key to this series will be staying disciplined, noting the Winterhawks illustrated what they can do with the man advantage.
“They move pucks around really well, as good as anybody.
“Some penalties you have to take over the course of a game. But the ones you take in the offensive zone are killers…we have to make corrections in that area for sure.”
Kelowna and Portland face-off for game two Saturday night, 7:05 p.m., at Prospera Place.