Finally . . . the albatross is gone!
The Kamloops Blazers, a franchise that last won a WHL playoff series in 1999, defeated the host Victoria Royals 4-1 on Wednesday night to win the best-of-seven first-round series, 4-0.
Ironically, Marc Habscheid was the Blazers' head coach when they took out the Tri-City Americans 13 years ago. He now is the general manager and head coach of the Royals.
With the first round of WHL playoffs behind them, the Blazers can start looking ahead.
Their second-round opponent most likely will be the Portland Winterhawks, who hold a 3-0 series lead over the Kelowna Rockets going into Game 4 tonight in the Little Apple.
As B.C. Division champions, the Blazers, who totaled 99 points in the regular season, were the Western Conference's No. 2 seed when the playoffs began; the U.S. Division-champion Tri-City Americans, who finished with 104 points, were the No. 1 seed, with the Winterhawks and their 102 points at No. 3.
But the WHL reseeds by points for the second round, so the Winterhawks would move to No. 2, with the Blazers sliding to No. 3.
That means the Winterhawks, should they take out the Rockets, will have home-ice advantage for the second round. That series most likely would open with games in Portland on April 6 and 7. Tentatively, Games 3 and 4 would be played in Kamloops on April 10 and 11.
Last night, Blazers winger Brendan Ranford, a 40-goal man in the regular season, broke a 1-1 tie at 4:27 of the second period with his first goal of the series. At 13:07, Kamloops winger Dylan Willick notched his fourth goal in as many games; he later added an empty-netter.
Willick, a 28-goal scorer, went scoreless over the regular-season's last six games, then scored at least once in each game against Victoria.
Victoria had taken a 1-0 lead on forward Ben Walker's first goal of the series at 1:40 of the first period. Matt Needham tied it for the Blazers with his second goal in as many nights at 12:13.
That set the stage for Ranford and Willick to score in the second period. The Blazers outscored the Royals 22-11 in the series, including 16-3 in second periods.
Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave stopped 30 shots, 10 more than Keith Hamilton of the Royals.
The Blazers won it without forward Chase Schaber, the team captain. He suffered a skate cut to a leg early in Game 3 on Tuesday night and returned to Kamloops for medical attention yesterday.
“He's off limits (to the media) right now,” Tim O'Donovan, the Blazers' media and communications co-ordinator, wrote in a text. “(He's in the) hands of the medical staff right now.”
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 5,277. . . . Kamloops was 0-for-2 on the PP; the Royals were 0-for-3. . . . The Blazers scratched Schaber (leg), D Austin Madaisky (suspension), G Taran Kozun and F Brock Balson. Madaisky completed a two-game suspension that he incurred following the second game of the series. . . . The Royals scratched D Zach Habscheid (ankle), F Brandon Magee (foot), F Lukas Kralik and D Kade Pilton. . . . The Blazers swept the Tri-City Americans in 1999, winning the fourth game 4-3 in Kennewick, Wash., on April 22. The Blazers, who lost the 1999 championship final in five games to the Calgary Hitmen, would win only five of their next 49 playoff games going into this season. They were swept seven times, lost in five games twice and were beaten once in six games. They missed the playoffs in two seasons.
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