By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The WHL playoff game’s outcome was right there, on the stick of Kamloops Blazers forward JC Lipon.
The third period was nine minutes old, the Blazers and Rockets were 4-4 and linemate Brendan Ranford had presented Lipon with an empty net.
Lipon misfired wide to the long side . . . way right. He was not a happy camper.
But all that changed when Lipon scored at 3:43 of overtime to give the Blazers a 5-4 victory at Interior Savings Centre.
That gave the Blazers a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series. Kamloops will be in a position to wrap it up when the teams meet again tonight at ISC. A fifth game, if necessary, would be played Friday in Kelowna.
“I missed like maybe two of those all season,” Lipon, a 36-goal man, said, referring to that third-period opportunity. “That was a big one and I fanned on it. I was pretty mad. It definitely bothered me.”
It didn’t bother him enought to distract him from the task at hand, though. And in an overtime in which both teams had their chances, Lipon had the final say.
Lipon, who leads the playoff scoring race, took advantage of some good work by Ranford and Cole Ully deep in the Kelowna zone and beat goaltender Jackson Whistle from the short left side of the slot and — that’s why they call it sudden-death — this one was over.
“I didn’t play very well all game,” said Lipon, who also had an assist and now leads the WHL in assists (14) and points (19). “I was pretty disappointed in myself. I just couldn’t seem to rebound. For overtime, it was definitely good to get some confidence back.”
The Rockets, playing their fifth game in eight nights, started this game with a lot of energy and only Kamloops goaltender Cole Cheveldave kept his guys from getting blown out.
Forward Tyrell Goulbourne forced a turnover and Cheveldave stoned him with a right pad just 10 seconds into the game. That signalled the start of an onslaught and the Rockets went on to put up 12 of the game’s first 13 shots.
But Cheveldave kept them off the scoreboard and that’s something that paid huge dividends for the home boys by game’s end.
“He’s been our backbone the whole series and the first period as well,” Lipon said. “We kind of expect it from him now but we have to help him out a little bit more.”
Cheveldave, who finished with 33 stops, made timely saves all game, including a diving save on Kelowna defenceman Madison Bowey earlier in the overtime period.
“If he doesn’t make that save,” Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said, “the momentum has changed completely.”
As things turned out, Charron added, “The momentum is still on our side with that win in overtime.”
“He made the saves, the timely ones,” Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska said of Cheveldave. “Even the one in overtime . . . he made timely saves tonight.”
The same couldn’t be said of Kelowna starter Jordon Cooke, who was beaten three times on 11 shots in the first period. He was replaced by Whistle to start the second period.
“We need our guy to bounce back,” Huska said.
The Blazers escaped from that first period with a 3-2 lead, despite being outshot 19-11. The five goals were scored in a span of 6:33, which was more than enough to put a buzz into the crowd.
The Rockets then outscored their hosts 2-1 in the second period, forging a 4-4 tie going into the third, which was scoreless.
The Blazers got a stellar evening from captain Dylan Willick, who had two goals and an assist, with Ranford and Kale Kessy also scoring.
Former Blazers forward J.T. Barnett, who had missed the last eight games due to illness, scored twice for Kelowna, with Ryan Olsen and Cole Martin also scoring.
The Rockets, still without four injured regulars and the suspended Tyson Baillie, their leading scorer, definitely outskated the Blazers for much of this game.
“I liked the way we played for the most part,” Huska said. “This was our best game of the series. Getting J.T. back was a big help for us; I thought his energy was really good.
“And I thought we were more physical tonight and we have to continue that in the series.”
Charron didn’t especially like his team’s start. In fact, he didn’t like much about his team’s game until the overtime.
“I thought in OT it was the most energy I saw collectively,” Charron said. “During the game, I don’t think we were working collectively. As they say, good teams find ways . . . so I guess we’re a good team.
“But we’re going to have to be much better and I believe we can be.”
JUST NOTES: The attendance was 4,305. . . . Lipon, with 19 points in nine games, is the only WHLer to have at least a point in each of his team’s playoff games. . . . The Blazers were 1-for-6 on the power play and that included a 5-on-3 for 1:17 in the second period. . . . Kelowna was 0-for-4. . . . Kelowna D Mitchell Wheaton, playing in his third game since coming back from a shoulder injury, left favouring his right shoulder at 17:38 of the second period. He did return for the third. . . . The Daily News Three Stars — 1. Willick: Getting better and better; 2. Martin: Played big; 3. Cheveldave: Gave up four but it could have been 10. . . . The Blazers were without F Colin Smith for a second straight game. He is believed to have a concussion after a hit by Baillie early in the second period of Game 1. Baillie has served his two-game suspension, so is eligible to return tonight. . . . The entire series is being shown by Shaw TV. . . . Ranford has been named the WHL and CHL player of the week after putting up eight points in three games. . . . Former WHL referee Darren Loraas was in the house as a league supervisor.
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