Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rockets worst enemy

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  • The Kelowna Rockets were their worst enemy Friday night at ShoWare Center. In game five of their Western Conference championship series with the Seattle Thunderbirds, the Rockets essentially gave two 'gift goals' to the home team in a 5-3 road loss. Reid Gardiner's uncharacteristic cross ice pass resulted in a breakaway goal from Scott Eansor and then defenceman Devante Stephens fumbled the puck at the T-Birds blue-line, allowing forward Sami Moilanen to skate in and beat Michael Herringer for another breakaway goal seven minutes later. With only 5 shots on net, the T-Birds and their fans were enjoying a 2-0 lead. That was a pretty good start for a Seattle team that really had nothing going on in the opening period. Heck, they were out-shot 17-8 and must have been shaking their heads in amazement at their good fortune. The Rockets did battle back with power play goals from Calvin Thurkauf and Nick Merkley, but then surrendered two goals in a span of 1:20 late in the second period and it was lights out. The fact is, this Rockets team is much better than they showed in game five. Now they find themselves trailing this series 3 games to 2 and facing elimination with the teams season on the line at Prospera Place Sunday afternoon (5:05 pm)
  • In a game dominated by penalty calls and power play chances, the Rockets were awarded several early power play opportunities. As the game went along though, it was the Rockets who had the tables turned on them as they made six consecutive trips to the penalty box. The crucial calls against Tomas Soustal and Lucas Johansen allowed Seattle to score two power play goals in 80 seconds and it was an uphill climb heading into the second intermission.
  • It was a rough night for the Rockets on so many levels. Giving up those two goals early in the first period was only compounded with Michael Herringer's inability to bail his team out. Herringer's success rate in shootout situations in flawless (career 17-17 in shootouts), yet he was beaten twice on backhand breakaway goals. At the other end, rookie Carl Stankowski made no less than four goal saving stops and, for a 5th consecutive game, received significantly more work than his counterpart at the other end. That needs to change, and change immediately if the Rockets season extends beyond Sunday night. Herringer must match Stankowski, save for save, in the game six rematch. But again, Herringer doesn't need to be spectacular, just steady. Stankowski, in this series, must be and has been excellent. 
  • Stankowski has faced 50 more shots than Herringer in this series. The Rockets have fired 175 shots at the T-Birds net in the first five games. Seattle has, on average, been able to generate just 25 shots per game on the 21 year-old goaltender.
  • A scary moment in the second period when forward Kole Lind was hurt after a scrum behind the Rockets net with T-Birds forward Keegan Kolesar. The two started pushing one another and a huge gathering of players saw Lind fall down, with a much bigger Kolesar landing on top of him. Shortly after the two fell to the ice, one of the referee's signaled for medical aid with Rockets athletic therapist Scott Hoyer running out quickly to investigate. You could see blood on the ice as Lind was helped to the dressing room. Thankfully, after a few stitches, the Rockets leading scorer from the regular season was back in the game for the start of the third period.
  • Seattle fans won't like me saying this, but honestly, would you rather I lie to you or speak the truth? With the loss of Ethan Bear following a game three injury to Seattle's marquee defenceman, this series has, or should be slanted significantly in the Kelowna Rockets direction. Prior to Bear's departure, it was a saw-off between these two teams to see who would advance to the WHL final. Bear's loss cannot be understated. Therefore, it stuns me that the T-Birds have the Rockets on the ropes after a game five win. It really does. When I look at the series as a whole, the Rockets have been the better team. I sincerely believe that. I will give the T-Birds credit for being extremely opportunistic. 
  • Bear took the pre-game warm-up Friday night and attempted to shoot the puck. The fracture in his left hand simply does not allow him to following through on a shot. It is sad to see such a great player unable to play in this series. I am all about 'best on best', but Bear's injury after blocking a Reid Gardiner shot is not a short term thing. 
  • Facing elimination, the Rockets will undoubtedly play their best game of the series on Sunday. With so many players having faced elimination squarely in the face, twice, in the 2016 post season, I expect a tremendous effort from the goaltender on-out in game six. Specifically, look for the three 20 year-old's to make significant impacts. I expect Michael Herringer, Reid Gardiner and Rodney Southam to step up, big time, with the prospect of their major junior careers coming to an abrupt end. This Rockets team is too good to go down without swinging.  
  • Nick Merkley, Dillon Dube and Calvin Thurkauf extended their playoff point streaks with goals in game five. Thurkauf is enjoying an 8 game point streak while Merkley and Dube have 7 game point streaks heading into Sunday's showdown.           

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