By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The Kamloops Blazers thought they had forced overtime with a late, late goal on Saturday night.
However, the goal wasn’t allowed to stand and, as a result, the Vancouver Giants escaped from Interior Savings Centre with a 3-2 WHL victory.
The Giants got the victory by scoring three times in the third period, thus getting at least a measure of revenge after they were beaten 6-3 by the visiting Blazers one night earlier.
“It’s disappointing because really the win (Friday) night in Vancouver doesn’t mean a whole lot when you come home and lose,” said a clearly disgruntled Guy Charron, the Blazers’ head coach.
Vancouver forward Nathan Burns broke a 2-2 tie at 12:35 of the third period with his 12th goal of the season — it was his sixth in eight games against the Blazers.
The goal came after Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave — not seeing either of his defencemen, Marek Hrbas or Brock Maschmeyer, as an option — fired the puck around the left-wing boards to a waiting David Musil. The Vancouver defenceman turned it around in a hurry and Burns ended up scoring the eventual winner.
Later, with time winding down, the Blazers were able to get Cheveldave to the bench in favour of an extra attacker. And the home boys applied a lot of pressure, but weren’t able to beat Vancouver goaltender Adam Morrison.
At least, not legally.
With 4.3 seconds left, Kamloops winger Brendan Ranford fired a backdoor pass in the direction of defenceman Austin Madaisky, who was on Morrison’s doorstep. The puck hit one of Madaisky’s skates and beat Morrison.
However, referee Derek Zalaski immediately waved off the goal. Rob Fryer, who was in charge of video review, didn’t waste any time in agreeing with Zalaski that the puck had been kicked into the net.
“I couldn’t really tell from the position we were in,” Charron said. “Obviously, the referee waved it off right away . . . they went upstairs and (upheld) his decision.”
The Blazers didn’t lose this game on that play; they lost it late in the first period when a power-play unit that had struck three times on a season-high 10 opportunities one night earlier came up empty. Presented with a two-man advantage for one minute 39 seconds in a scoreless game, the Blazers never really threatened.
By the time this game was done, Kamloops was 0-for-4 on the PP.
“There’s no doubt that was a key element of our game, especially the 5-on-3,” Charron said. “We had opportunities.”
The improvement in Vancouver’s penalty killing, according to forward Brendan Gallagher, was simple.
“The goals they scored (Friday) were us having the puck on our sticks and turning it over,” Gallagher said. “We just had to bear down and I thought we did a better job of that.”
Centre Brendan Herrod put the Blazers out front at 10:52 of the second period and the lead held until the visitors got a key power-play goal at 5:26 of the third. Forward Marek Tvrdon snapped a shot over Cheveldave just seven seconds after J.C. Lipon was sent off for charging.
“We allowed them to come back,” Charron said. “We allowed one power-play goal on two opportunities. Our penalty killers should be able to kill the penalties, especially when there are only two of them.”
Lipon put his guys out front again four minutes later, finishing off a nifty tic-tac-toe rink-length dash with linemates Colin Smith and Tim Bozon after a blocked shot by defenceman Landon Cross.
The lead didn’t last even two minutes, though, as Cheveldave had a shot bounce high off a shoulder and end up in the crease from where Tvrdon tapped in his 27th goal of the season.
The Blazers suffered third-degree Burns 1:16 later when the 19-year-old from Edmonton notched the winner.
“It was a good win for our group,” Gallagher said. “We need points right now.”
The Giants (39-26-5) returned home and scored a 5-4 overtime victory over the Victoria Royals on Sunday night, moving into fourth in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Spokane Chiefs, who hold two games in hand.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s loss all but ended any dreams the Blazers (46-18-5) may have had of finishing atop the WHL’s overall standings or the Western Conference. They now are four points off the pace with just three games remaining and have three teams — the Tri-City Americans, Edmonton Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks — ahead of them.
The Blazers, then, will go into the playoffs as the B.C. Division winners and the conference’s No. 2 seed. That means they will open at home against the No. 7 seed on March 23 and 24.
That No. 7 seed will be either the Everett Silvertips, Victoria, Seattle Thunderbirds or Prince George Cougars, all of whom are scuffling over the last two playoff berths.
Kamloops is scheduled to play in Spokane on Wednesday and then go home-and-home with Prince George, playing here on Friday and there on Saturday.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,527. . . . Morrison finished with 26 saves, four more than Cheveldave. . . . The Blazers are 2-5 in their last seven home games. . . . Lipon had gone seven games without a goal before he got his 19th goal. He needs one more to become the club’s seventh 20-goal scorer. . . . Blazers F Chase Schaber (leg) sat out his third straight game. Schaber won’t play in Spokane, Charron said, unless he is 100 per cent and gets in a full practice on Tuesday. . . . Kamloops F Chase Souto (shoulder) didn’t play after being injured in the first period on Friday. He may play in Spokane. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Tvrdon: Two key goals, the first one with an amazing shot; 2. Cross: Steady and big shot blocks; 3. F Jordan Martinook, Vancouver: Solid night, especially killing penalties.
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