It’s all come down to a best-of-three.
With a trip to the Western Hockey League’s championship series beckoning, the Kelowna Rockets and Seattle Thunderbirds meet tonight in Game 5 of the Western Conference final in Kent, Wash.
While the stakes get higher with each passing game, Rockets’ head coach Jason Smith said little will change in the way his club prepares for the task ahead.
“We’ll take the steps we need to make sure we’re ready to play the game,” Smith said. “We’ll make sure we get rest, food and hydration and just move forward.
“I think we gotta worry about what we’re doing as a team and what we’re doing as a group, making sure we’re taking care of what we can control,” Smith added. “We’re not worried about what they’re doing.”
What the Thunderbirds did was get the upper hand in the series with a 2-1 win on Tuesday night, as Keegan Kolesar scored the decisive goal with just 20 seconds remaining in the game.
On Wednesday, in what Smith’s club considered a must-win scenario, the Rockets rebounded for a 4-2 win to even the series and assure a Game 6 would be played on Sunday in Kelowna.
To move on in the playoffs, the Rockets will have to win at least one more time on Thunderbirds’ ice.
Rockets rookie Nolan Foote said that victory might as well come on Friday night.
“It’s huge for us to go into Seattle with this win,” said Foote who connected for his first playoff goal in the Game 4 victory. “We’ve gotta go down there and get the win, come back to Kelowna with the home crowd and finish them off.”
Game 6 of the Western Conference championship will face off at 5:05 p.m. Sunday at Prospera Place.
A seventh game, if needed, is set for Tuesday, May 2 in Kent.
Stephens signs with Sabres…
Rockets’ defenceman Devante Stephens took the next step towards a pro career this week, signing a three-year entry level deal with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
Stephens, 20, was drafted by the Sabres in the fifth round, 122nd overall in the 2015 NHL draft.
A native of Surrey, Stephens is in his third season with the Rockets during which time he has collected 19 goals and 57 points in 203 games while posting a +56 rating and 166 penalty minutes. He also added 12 assists, and a +5 rating in 50 career playoff games.
The 6-foot-1, 176-pound rearguard led Kelowna’s blueline corps in goals this season with 13, while adding 22 assists in 67 games.
Stephens was a member of the Rockets’ WHL championship team in the 2014-2015 season.