By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
What a difference five goals makes!
It was just on Wednesday evening when the Kamloops Blazers were staring playoff elimination squarely in the face. Already trailing the Portland Winterhawks 3-0 in a best-of-seven WHL Western Conference semifinal, the Blazers found themselves losing Game 4, 4-0, with the first period barely half over.
Oh, woe were they!
But wait! Since that point in time, the Blazers have outscored the Winterhawks 12-2, won two games and put themselves right back into the thick of this series.
In fact, a victory in Game 6 tonight at Interior Savings Centre will send the series back to Portland for Game 7 on Wednesday.
“We’re not quite there yet,” forward Dylan Willick of the Blazers said Sunday evening. “We have the momentum to the point where we believe we can make it 3-3 in our building and go back to Portland . . . we know that we the two games to keep going so we can’t let that get away.
“It definitely doesn’t feel like we’re down 3-0 anymore. It definitely doesn’t feel that we’re that close to elimination.”
The Blazers have gotten yeomen work from goaltender Cam Lanigan over the last five periods. He gave up four goals on eight shots early in Game 4, but has since stopped 57 of 59 shots, a save percentage of .966.
“He is standing on his head,” Willick said. “He has given us big hope. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him. He has given us a chance against a highly offensive team. That’s exactly what we need out of a goaltender.”
Lanigan, a 19-year-old from Calgary, will make his fifth straight start tonight as he replaces Cole Cheveldave, who suffered a concussion when he was run over by Portland forward Oliver Gabriel in Game 1 on April 6.
Gabriel has served a four-game suspension and is eligible to return tonight.
Cheveldave was on the ice last night for the first time since he was injured, but that doesn’t mean he is close to returning. Goaltending coach Dan De Palma put Cheveldave and Taran Kozun through some drills; Cheveldave left the ice after about 30 minutes.
Cheveldave has passed his baseline test. He also has ridden a stationary bike and done some jumping exercises. His re-appearance on the ice was just another step in the right direction.
While Cheveldave won’t play, winger J.C. Lipon will be back in the Blazers’ lineup after serving a one-game suspension for a Game 4 hit on Portland sniper Ty Rattie. With Rattie having played Saturday night, the WHL ruled Sunday morning that Lipon would be eligible to return tonight.
Willick, for one, is of the opinion that the play involving Lipon’s hit and subsequent goal may well have been the key moment, at least until now, in this series.
“About 15 seconds there,” Willick said. “I say it was a good body check . . . it was a good play overall. (Lipon) did what we’ve been preaching the whole time — finishing our checks. Then the bounce goes our way and he puts it home.
“Ever since then, we’ve been doing the exact same thing — playing physical, getting chances and finishing them.”
Willick said it’s simply a case of wanting to play hard-hitting hockey.
“We want to put the puck in deep and just crash and bang,” he explained. “They’re wearing down. In the third period, we have all the energy and they're just tired.”
JUST NOTES: The Blazers last won a playoff game by five or more goals on April 18, 1999, when they beat the visiting Tri-City Americans, 6-0, in Game 2 of the Western Conference final. . . . The last time the Blazers were involved in a series that went six games was 2005 when they lost 4-2 to the Kootenay Ice. . . . The Blazers haven’t been in a seven-game series since 1998. That spring, they took a 3-1 lead over Prince George, only to have the Cougars win the next three games and the series. . . . Lipon, F Brock Balson, D Landon Cross, D Jordan Thomson, F Brayden Gelsinger and F Aspen Sterzer joined Cheveldave and Kozun on the ice last evening. . . . The Blazers arrived home from Portland at 6 a.m. . . . The Americans hold a 3-2 lead over the Spokane Chiefs in the other Western Conference semifinal. The Americans posted a 5-3 home-ice victory on Saturday night. That series continues tonight in Spokane. . . . The Western Conference final is to begin Friday in the home arena of the highest-seeded survivor. . . . The Eastern Conference final, featuring the Edmonton Oil Kings and Moose Jaw Warriors, will open in the Alberta capital on Friday. Moose Jaw and Edmonton last met in a WHL playoff series in the spring of 1967.
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