Saturday, April 16, 2016

Road team 'Rockets' to victory

Photo courtesy: Jon Howe/Victoria Royals
  • Revenge is sweet. Just ask Tyson Baillie. The 20 year-old forward scored the game winning goal Friday night in the Kelowna Rockets 4-1 win over the Victoria Royals. The goal came after stealing the puck from Royals marquee defenceman Joe Hicketts inside the blue line and scoring on a misplayed deek, yet the puck found its way past goaltender Coleman Vollrath.  Baillie’s apparent ‘kicked in’ goal didn’t count in game two, here in Victoria, so justice was served with Baillie’s winner in game five. The Rockets have now won three straight games and lead the series 3-2 in this best of seven affair. Game six is Sunday in Kelowna.
  • I could have envisioned the start before the puck was even dropped in game five. The Royals came out guns a blazing in an effort to stop a two game losing streak and the Rockets looked slow and road weary. How could they not? While both teams faced the same type of travel, the Royals are accustomed to it. The Rockets are not. Playing on game day after a huge amount of travel is foreign territory. That is what makes the road win even that much more impressive. 
  • Michael Herringer should have been the first star. The veteran goaltender, who is still wet behind his ears because of his lack of big game experience, was the reason why his team was able to win. Herringer did what good goalies do. He gave his team a chance to find their footing with several solid first period stops. The Royals out-shot the Rockets 10-2 in the opening 20 minutes.
  • The game seemed to turn in the second period. The Royals must have been shocked to be carrying the play only to see the Rockets score the opening goal. If that didn’t damper their spirits, a ferocious penalty killing unit was nothing short of outstanding in limiting the home team to perimeter puck movement, with few good looks on five extra man chances. I thought the battle level of every penalty killer was excellent. Getting into shooting lanes was common place. One that stands out was a slap shot from Joe Hicketts at the Rockets blue line that hit defender Cole Linaker right in the shin pad and the 20 year-old didn’t even flinch.  The commitment to sacrifice the body and win board battles was as good as I’ve seen this season. Honestly, I have not seen that sacrifice this season up until now. It must be the playoffs.
  • Four words. Rodney Southam was outstanding. The score sheet won’t show it. Winning pucks and playing desperation hockey to clear the zone was uncanny.
  • Third period lock down. Is that what we call it? The Rockets third period was as good a road period  as I’ve witnessed. Chipping pucks deep, taking time off the clock with excellent puck management and just battling for possession didn’t allow the Royals a ‘sniff’ (Saskatchewan terminology) in an effort to produce a comeback before a capacity crowd of over 7 thousand. As an observer, it just felt like the Rockets were in control and a flurry at the end wasn’t about to happen. It didn’t. Even with Vollrath on the bench, the Royals just couldn’t get it going against a team that looks determined.
  • Speaking of Vollrath, does Royals head coach Dave Lowry make a goaltending change in game six? Not like Vollrath has been bad, but he has lost three in a row. You may remember he replaced Vollrath with Griffen Outhouse in game four of a first round playoff series with Spokane. Outhouse closed out the series. Or is that a sign of panic? Lowry is a bold coach. Let’s see if he makes the bold move or stays the course Sunday night.   
  • I said it on the pre-game show, my belief was if the Rockets were to win a game in Victoria, game five was the one to get. The speedy Royals would likely have a good push early but would fade with travel fatigue and the fact both teams were playing their third game in four nights. It was all about gutting it out and showing that past playoff battle experience is a valuable accessory in your tool belt. Everyone talks about championship pedigree. It is great to have if you use it.  Are the Rockets finally putting that trump card on the table in the most crucial time of the season?
  • Are the Rockets out of the woods in this series? Not a chance. As impressive as a three game winning streak and digging out of a 0-2 deficit in this series, it can come crashing down in the blink of an eye. Any miss step against a team that won 50 games during the regular season and the defending champions season will come plummeting to the ground. Now is not the time to let off the gas. If the Rockets truly have the ‘killer instinct’, they will show their true colours Sunday in a crucial game six for both teams. 

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