Like their first-round playoff series against Seattle, the Kelowna Rockets once again find themselves staring up at a two games to none deficit.
Only this time, their opponent isn’t a seventh-place team that finished 50 points behind the Rockets during the Western Hockey League’s regular season.
The Kamloops Blazers—after 4-2 and 5-1 victories at Prospera Place—return home in the driver’s seat in the Western Conference semifinal series, with Games 3 and 4 set for Tuesday and Wednesday at the Interior Savings Centre.
“There is no Game 4 for us right now, we have to make sure we’re ready for Tuesday and make the necessary adjustments to see if we keep this series within reach,” said Huska. “Realistically, this is a bigger hill to climb. No disrespect to Seattle, but with the offensive firepower and the goaltending Kamloops has, if we go down by three games, I don’t think our chances are very good.”
Even though his club came up empty in the first two games, Huska liked a lot of what the Rockets did on both Saturday and Sunday nights.
“We did play well, we just made turnovers at the wrong time and it cost us,” Huska added. “A lot of it comes down to execution, we need to manage pucks better. We just generated too many turnovers and have to find a way to eliminate those.”
Kelowna was expected to be without Tyson Baillie—its top playoff scorer—for Game 3 due to a suspension.
The 17-year-old centre was disciplined by the WHL for an open-ice hit on Blazers’ forward Colin Smith in the second period Game 1. Smith didn’t play in Game 2 due to an undisclosed injury.
As of Monday morning, the WHL had yet to announce the exact length of the suspension.
Huska said, after viewing the hit, he didn’t believe a long-term suspension was warranted.
“In the league’s criteria, he was within the 90 degrees allowed for contact, it’s not a charge, and his hands were down, so all of that was OK,” Huska said. “I think what the league is saying is, it was a little late. But I also think part of the responsibility is on the other player, coming across the ice and watching his shot…he needs to be aware of other players on the ice.”
The injury-laden Rockets will once again get some much needed ice time from a couple of unexpected reinforcements for Games 3 and 4 in Kamloops.
Both sidelined since January with shoulder injuries, defenceman Mitchell Wheaton returned to the lineup for the series opener, while forward Carter Rigby was back on the ice on Sunday night.
Both players were initially thought to be lost for the season, but chose to return after being told by team surgeons last week that they could do no further damage to their shoulders.
“Not playing for a long time, both guys have done a good job in a tough situation,” Huska said.
The Rockets also dressed Dalton Yorke for Game 2, a 16-year-old defenceman who played this season with the B.C. Major Midget League’s Northeast Chiefs.
Huska said Yorke, who saw limited action, will again be available for Game 3 if needed.
Captain Colton Sissons, rookie centre Rourke Charter, and defenceman Jesse Lees and MacKenzie Johnston all remain sidelined with injuries.
Game 5, if needed, would be played Friday night at Prospera Place.