(Blazers lead series 2-0)
Everything that went wrong for Kamloops sport on the hardwood Saturday night went right on the ice.
The Kamloops Blazers took a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round Western Hockey League playoff series against the Victoria Royals with a 6-4 victory before 4,505 fans at the Interior Savings Centre.
That took some of the sting out around town of much-heralded emerging Kamloops sporting hero Kelly Olynyk and top-seeded Gonzaga being bounced out of the NCAA basketball tournament by Wichita State despite Olynyk’s 26 points.
It also forced the Royals into a must-win situation as the series against the Blazers now swings to the capital region for the third and fourth games Tuesday and Thursday at home-away-from-home Bear Mountain Arena.
The Royals have vacated their usual venue, Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, for the upcoming 2013 world men’s curling championships.
Whether on Blanshard Street or in Colwood, one thing is for sure — the Blazers come in this week with the upper hand. But the Royals are conceding nothing.
“There’s no pressure on us,” insisted Victoria head coach Dave Lowry.
“We’re playing one of the best teams in the country [the Blazers are the eighth-ranked major-junior team in the Canadian Hockey League] and no one expected us to win. All we heard before this series is that we would be done in four. It’s our responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Yet the Blazers have now won six consecutive playoff games against the Royals, dating back to last year’s first-round 4-0 sweep.
The Western Conference sixth-seed Royals were a franchise-record 35-30-7 in the 2012-13 regular season and the third-seeded Blazers 47-20-5 for their second-consecutive 99-point season.
That disparity between the clubs showed early Saturday before a desperate Royals rally fell just short.
“We ramped it up in the third period. Our guys competed hard and played hard,” said Lowry.
I was an unlikely offensive candidate on such a high-octane scoring team — defenceman Joel Edmundson — that gave Kamloops the lead with two goals in the first period. But the six-foot-four blueliner, obtained mid-season from the Moose Jaw Warriors for a Blazers playoff run, certainly has a pedigree as a 2011 NHL second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues.
Jamie Crooks, the 21-year-old 33-goal regular-season scorer, brought Victoria to within one on the power play at 11:49 of the second period. But then came three goals in four minutes for the Blazers in the second period as Swiss-import Tim Bozon scored twice and Brendan Ranford short-handed to give Kamloops a seemingly-commanding 5-1 lead before the Victoria rally went wanting in the third period.
Forward Tyler Soy, a first-round 2012 bantam draft pick and 15-year-old Midget call-up, Austin Carroll and Brandon Magee scored to bring Victoria to within one at 5-4 in the third period but the Royals could come no closer. Blazers captain Dylan Willick sealed the deal into an empty net at 19:52 of the third.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave made 20 saves for the win while Patrik Polivka made 25 saves for Victoria.
ICE CHIPS: Royals captain, the 21-year-old defenceman Tyler Stahl, missed his 10th consecutive game as fellow-blueliner Jordan Fransoo once again wore the ‘C’ . . . Blazers defenceman Sam Grist of North Saanich was minus-2 on the night.
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