By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
In a couple of weeks, when the WHL office writes the final chapter on this regular season, the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Kamloops Blazers may look back at Friday night’s game as the one that told the tale.
With both teams fighting for their playoff lives, the Hurricanes skated to a 4-1 victory and moved back into a tie for the 12-team Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
“Every game is a playoff game,” said Rich Preston, Lethbridge’s general manager and head coach, who didn’t tell his players until game’s end that Prince Albert had lost, a result that allowed the Hurricanes to pull even with the Raiders.
“He just told us at the end,” added two-goal man Mitch Maxwell, “so we had a little chant going. That puts us right back in it.”
The Hurricanes (22-30-13) close out this three-game B.C. Division swing in Kelowna against the Rockets tonight.
Meanwhile, the Blazers, who performed in front of 4,506 fans at Interior Savings Centre, remain tied with the Prince George Cougars for seventh in the 10-team Western Conference. But now the Chilliwack Bruins, who won 1-0 in Kelowna, are just a point back. The Bruins also hold three games in hand on Kamloops and two on Prince George.
To make things even more interesting, the Blazers (29-33-4) are scheduled to play in Chilliwack (28-30-5) tonight.
“When you are fighting for your playoff life, you have to show a sense of desperation,” stated Kamloops head coach Guy Charron, who added that his club “needs to get that sense of urgency” by tonight.
This was the second home-ice setback in a row for the Blazers, who were beaten 6-2 by Kelowna on Wednesday night in their first game after a dazzling 4-0-1 jaunt into the Central Division.
The Blazers also had captain Chase Schaber (leg) and defenceman Brandon Underwood (knee) back after both had missed considerable time.
However, the Blazers simply weren’t able to generate much offence against a team that, like themselves, struggles defensively.
And whenever they did break through, goaltender Brandon Anderson, who signed an NHL contract with the Washington Capitals after being a training-camp invitee last fall, had all the answers but one. He finished with 30 saves.
The teams traded goals 1:10 apart in the first period — Alex Kuvaev scoring for the visitors at 7:31 and Dylan Willick counting for Kamloops — before playing through a scoreless second period.
Shortly past the midway mark of the third period, the game turned on a dime.
Austin Fyten, who leads Lethbridge in goals (24) and points (51), won a battle in back of Kamloops goaltender Jeff Bosch and got the puck to the crease area from where Brody Sutter knocked it home at 12:06.
Just over a minute later, Maxwell got through defencemen Tyler Hansen and Josh Caron and headed in alone. A tug from behind resulted in a penalty shot and Maxwell was able to slide the puck through Bosch’s legs for a 3-1 lead.
“Mostly I was just thinking we have to get a goal right now and knock the wind out of their sail,” said Maxwell, who is the first of four penalty-shot shooters to beat Bosch this season. “It happened to go in. It was a big win for us.”
Maxwell later added an empty-netter for his 18th goal of the season.
Schaber was back in his old spot, between wingers Brendan Ranford and Jordan DePape. But it will take some time for those three to recapture the magic they had before Schaber first was injured on Jan. 4.
“Until you get into a couple of games, you can’t get into game shape,” Schaber stated. “Getting skated in practice isn’t game-like. The game is more of a quicker pace.
“Other than that, it felt good. It’s just going to take a little bit more time to get back into the shape I was in before I was injured.”
What irked Schaber the most was that he, Ranford and Thomas Frazee were on the ice when Sutter scored to break the 1-1 tie.
“It’s not a good thing when your top line takes a shift off,” Schaber said. “That’s when they scored on us and it’s unacceptale.
“We have to be better (tonight).”
JUST NOTES: Each team was 0-for-3 on the power play. . . . The Hurricanes lost F Philip Tot late in the first period after he was the recipient of a hard, clean check by Kamloops D Corey Fienhage. Tot missed time with a concussion earlier this season and may have suffered another one on the play. . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Anderson — Cool and confident; 2. Maxwell — Two goals and grit; 3. Willick — Best of the Blazers. . . . Kamloops is next at home on Tuesday against the Tri-City Americans. . . . Former Blazers captain Reid Jorgensen, who now plays for the U of Calgary Dinos, is the Canada West WHL graduate of the month for February. Jorgensen, who played five seasons with the Blazers, had 10 points, including three game-winning assists, in seven games in February.