Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blazers force Game 7

Daily News Sports Editor

A curtain call?
This wasn’t Phantom of the Opera. This wasn’t The Lion King.
This was a hockey game. However, it wasn’t just any hockey game.
And when it ended, 5,080 fans stood inside Interior Savings Centre and roared and roared and roared some more. This was a crowd that didn’t want to leave.
After a few minutes of the crescendo, the Kamloops Blazers, who had just completed a heart-stopping 7-6 WHL playoff victory over the Portland Winterhawks, returned to the ice surface and saluted their fans.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the joint. And there will be hoarse voices in the city today.
“It was unbelieveable . . . it gave me shivers,” said Kamloops defenceman Bronson Maschmeyer, whose second goal of the game broke a 6-6 tie with 20.6 seconds left in the third period. “I’m so proud to be a Blazer and so proud that these fans came out. I’ve never had a feeling like that before. It was awesome.”
The Blazers trailed 5-2 going into the third period but, obviously, they had the Winterhawks right where they wanted them.
After all, the Blazers once trailed this series 0-3. Then, in Game 4, the home boys were down 4-0 halfway through the first period, only to come back and win, 5-4.
The Blazers then went into Portland and ran away with a 7-2 decision. Then came last night.
And now the teams will return to Portland and play Game 7, winner-take-all, in Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday night.
Only once in WHL history — the league’s first season was 1966-67 — has a team come back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7. The Spokane Chiefs did it in the spring of 1996, beating the visiting Winterhawks 4-3 in overtime in that deciding game.
So, yes, it does happen. And it may happen again tomorrow night because this Winterhawks team is starting to look as though it’s living in a house in Amityville.
If there was a key goal among the 13 scored in this one, it likely came off the stick of Kamloops defenceman Marek Hrbas. He pounded a slapshot past Portland goaltender Mac Carruth at 5:55 of the third period to cut the deficit to 5-3.
“I thought the Hrbas goal started it,” Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ general manager and head coach, said. “It gave them a little juice. They got to 5-3 and it gave them some energy.
“They earned a lot of what they got in the third period. They had us back on our heels a little bit . . . the momentum from the fans got them energized.”
Right-winger Jordan DePape pulled the Blazers within one when a centring pass appeared to deflect off a prone Troy Rutkowski, a Portland defenceman, in the crease. And the crowd roared at 8:49.
Just 11 seconds later, Portland defenceman Derrick Pouliot had the puck deep in his zone when he attempted to go d-to-d and disaster struck.
“It hit a crack in the boards, went back to them and out to the slot,” Johnston said. “That’s a little bit of a bad break.”
It was. Because it went right to Aspen Sterzer, who rifled the puck past Carruth for his first WHL playoff goal. And the roof about came off the joint.
Shortly after Sterzer’s goal, the officials signalled for the timeout that is held near the midway point of each period. Amazingly, the crowd rose as one and roared for the entire 90 seconds.
Centre Colin Smith put the Blazers out front, scoring off his own rebound from in tight, at 15:21. The crowd was on its feet one more time.
But the Winterhawks quieted the place just 26 seconds later when Cam Reid fired a shot from the slot past goaltender Cam Lanigan.
Of course, all that did was set the stage for Maschmeyer, who was the beneficiary of some terrific work by Brandon Herrod and Brendan Ranford, as they forced a turnover in the Winterhawks’ zone and got the puck to the point.
“I just put a slapshot through,” Maschmeyer said. “There was a lot of traffic at the net . . . blocker side. I just shot it and hoped for the best. We had 20 seconds left . . . they had their top line and we didn’t want to give anything up.
“We were in their zone so I figured I’m going to shot the puck. The guys did a great job in front of the net.”
Three of the Blazers’ goals came off similar plays.
“They’ve been getting some shots through from the point in the series,” Johnston said. “It seems like they’ve been finding the way through screens and it’s been a factor.”
Ranford had the Blazers’ other goal, that in the first period.
Brad Ross, with two, Pouliot, Oliver Gabriel and Brendan Leipsic also scored for the Winterhawks, who got 36 saves out of Carruth.
“It’s a characteristic of this hockey club,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said. “I’ve said it over and over again. They don’t want to give up. It’s something you build from Day 1 of training camp. It doesn’t matter if we miss people or not. Everybody shows up and plays hard. . . .
“I don’t know what else to say.”
Neither do 5,000 fans.
The other Western Conference semifinal also has gone to a Game 7. It, too, will be decided on Wednesday as the Spokane Chiefs visit the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash.
Should the Chiefs and Blazers both win, the conference final would open here on Friday night.
Do you believe in miracles?
JUST NOTES: Each team was 2-for-5 on the power play. . . . Lanigan stopped 24 shots. . . . The Daily News’ Three Stars: 1. Maschmeyer: Two goals in big game; 2. F Dylan Willick, Kamloops: Just does it; 3. Pouliot: Goal and two assists from back end. . . . Herrod finished with three assists in a strong performance, while Ranford added two helpers to his goal. . . . Prior to the game, a moment of silence was held in memory of former Blazers president Colin Day, who died on Friday. . . . Earlier yesterday, Ranford was named the WHL’s player of the week. He had six points, including three goals, as the Blazers won two of three games last week. . . . Tonight in the QMJHL, the Halifax Mooseheads will play the Remparts in Quebec City in Game 7. The Remparts once led that series, 3-0.

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