Saturday, March 25, 2017

Almost perfect

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Shoot the Breeze (click the link) Marissa Baecker photo
  • There is no such thing as a perfect playoff game. But if indeed their was, the Kelowna Rockets were darn close. In what can only be described as a dominating playoff performance Friday night, Carsen Twarynski scored twice and added an assist in the Rockets 4-0 win over the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Michael Herringer made 15 saves for his third career playoff shutout as the Rockets took a 1-0 lead in the best of 7 series. Game two is tonight at Prospera Place. From the opening puck drop to the final buzzer, the Rockets owned the ice and stunned the visitors in the most lopsided game between the two teams, win or lose, this season. One game does not make a playoff series, but it was the type of start the home team was looking for. Will we see the Rockets build off this win, or sag like they did after a game one win a season ago against this very opponent? Last season the Blazers won game two (5-4) after losing the opener.
  • This win was as dominant a playoff game as we've witnessed since game four of the Western Hockey League final against the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015. The Rockets took over that game and the Wheat Kings had no answer.  
  • Up until last night's two goal effort, Carsen Twarynski had just 1 goal in 21 career playoff games as a member of the Calgary Hitmen. The 19 year-old third round NHL draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers showed off his quick release and was named the 1st star with his three point night (2+1=3). Playing on a line with Dillon Dube and Tomas Soustal, the chemistry between the trio make them as dynamic as the first line of Calvin Thurkauf, Reid Gardiner and Nick Merkley. 
  • While Tomas Soustal wasn't given a star in the building, his impact was immediate after sitting out 8 games with an injury. Soustal's size mattered on this night as he powered his way to loose pucks and had a goal and an assist. Clearly, Soustal is a better match on that line with Dube and Twarynski, as opposed to Kole Lind, who is better served  playing with Rodney Southam and Nolan Foote. Foote ended the game with two assists. 
  • The scoring chances in the game are a good indicator of how it unfolded. The Rockets had 19 scoring opportunities, The Blazers? 2!
  • How about the fourth line? I thought Jack Cowell, Kyle Topping and Eric Gardiner were terrific.    
  • No surprise here. Reid Gardiner had a team high 9 shots on net. I loved his decision to shoot on a two-on-one with Calvin Thurkauf in the first period. While he didn't score, it was a puck on goal. We saw a similar odd man rush for the Blazers in the third period where captain Colin Shirley had a clear shooting lane but passed the puck to Nic Holowko. The end result was no shot on net.    
  • Defenceman Lucas Johansen was eating up a lot of ice with a team high 24 minutes. I thought the Rockets, for the most part, where making clean exits out of their own zone. While it starts with the d-man, the forwards play a large part in making it look smooth.
  • Michael Herringer's career playoff numbers are much different than his career regular season totals against the Blazers. The 21 year-old's career goals against average is 1.94, with a save percentage of .938 and three shutouts. 
  • What type of night was it? Rookie Jake Cowell won his first playoff fight in the WHL when he squared off with 16 year-old Blazers forward Jackson Shepard in a surprising tilt. Combined, the two players weigh 335 pounds. Divided by two, that's 168 pounds apiece. Paper weight material, yes, but spirited fight all the same. Cowell's first WHL tilt came this season against Vancouver's Johnny Wesley.
  • The save of the game, which might not have been detected by some, came from Blazers goaltender Connor Ingram 30 seconds into the third period. After receiving a high shot in the mask from forward Reid Gardiner, the 19 year-old went down on his belly with his face towards the ice. Did you notice how the puck went high in the air, bounced off defender Luke Zazula and bounced into Ingram's catching glove? It was an amazing save. It looked like Ingram had a magnet in his glove as the puck found it's way there. Had it not, it would have been in the back of the net and the Rockets would have had an early-third period 4-0 lead. 
  • The best Blazer? On this night Jermaine Loewen seemed to be the most engaged. The 'bobble head bruiser', as I like to call him, had good jump in his game and was at his antagonizing best. Always playing to his strengths, Loewen attempted to make life measurably for Dillon Dube and Nick Merkley specifically.  At one point he took Dube off the ice after he agitated the skilled forward by baiting him into a minor penalty for slashing. If Loewen can do more of that in this series, job accomplished for the big man.
  • I had to chuckle in a pre-game interview with Dillon Dube. I spoke to him about the 37 games of playoff experience he has under his belt, with his eyes lighting up in amazement when I threw out that number. Dube was a 16 year-old who went all the way to the WHL championship (18 games) before playing in all 18 post season games and a birth in the Western Conference final last season. Dube, who signed an NHL contract Friday with the Calgary Flames, played one playoff game as a 15 year-old.  
  • As solid as the game one win was, it isn't necessarily how impressive the Rockets were on opening night as how they respond in game two. Do they let down there guard? Are they relentless in their approach or do they let the Blazers back in the series? Great teams don't relent. Solid teams force it down the opponents throat by dictating the play from the opening puck drop. It will be interesting to see how both react in Saturday nights rematch. 

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