In the last three meetings of the regular season, the Kelowna Rockets didn’t have a solution for Connor Ingram and the Kamloops Blazers.
It took the high stakes of a Western Hockey League playoff game for the defending champs to find an answer.
Lucas Johansen scored twice to pace the Rockets to a 3-2 win over Kamloops Friday night at Prospera Place in the opener of the best-of-seven postseason series.
After being rebuffed by the Blazers’ staunch defensive game and the goaltending of Ingram over the last month of the season, Johansen said it was good to see a solid and committed effort from his teammates.
“It was good to come out strong,” said Johansen. “I thought top to bottom, we came to play and it showed. It was fun.”
Johansen put the Rockets on top with the lone goal of the opening period at 15:48.
In the second period, Dillon Dube and Johansen scored just 37 seconds apart—6:20 and 7:07— for what looked like a commanding 3-0 lead.
But former Rocket Gage Quinney put the Blazers on the board at 12:32 to make it 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Late in the third, with Ingram on the bench for an extra attacker, Colin Shirley scored with 55 seconds left to make it a one-goal game.
But with goaltender Michael Herringer making a couple of key saves down the stretch, the Rockets held on to grab Game 1 between the B.C. Division rivals.
“Overall I was really pleased with the way we were skating, and our puck battle, and just overall our game plan was good,” said Rockets head coach Brad Ralph, who said his team fed off the playoff atmosphere and a crowd of 5,461 inside Prospera Place.
“It was exciting, the guys were pretty excited before the game, it was a great crowd. Definitely that’s part of home ice advantage, drawing from the crowd, I thought they were loud, they had the thundersticks going. It was a good game.”
Game 2 in the best-of-seven first round series goes Saturday night at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.