Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blazers right back in Western Conference final

Kamloops Blazers goaltender Cole Cheveldave made some key first-period saves,
including this one on Portland forward Nic Petan.
(Keith Anderson / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor

It was late in the second period when the Interior Savings Centre crowd began chanting “Chevy! Chevy!! Chevy!!!”
And the sound system blared: “Like a rock.”
The fans were saluting Kamloops Blazers goaltender Cole Cheveldave, who was exactly that as he and his mates overwhelmed the Portland Winterhawks to the tune of 5-1 on Tuesday night.
What that means is that the Winterhawks take a 2-1 edge in the WHL’s best-of-seven Western Conference final into tonight’s game at ISC. And the series now is certain to return to Portland for Game 5 on Friday.
The Blazers won this one because Cheveldave was terrific in the first period, and the Winterhawks didn’t have an answer for the Kamloops line of, left to right, Tim Bozon, Colin Smith and JC Lipon.
On Nov. 16, the trio combined for 14 points in a 6-4 victory over the visiting Winterhawks, the only time this season that Kamloops beat Portland, prior to last night. For various reasons, including Lipon’s stint with the national junior team, the line was broken up and rarely reunited . . . until last night.
“It was a matter of, we weren’t generating what we thought we needed to generate,” Guy Charron, the Blazers’ head coach, explained. “You sometimes go back to what gave you success and early on they were the top line in the WHL. There was no reason to think they wouldn’t be able to put it together.”
“They’re a good line,” said Travis Green, Portland’s interim general manager and head coach, “one of the best lines in the league. But we made mistakes tonight that we don’t usually make.”
Bozon, playing his third game since coming back from a fracture in his right hand, had two goals and two assists; Smith potted a goal and had two assists; and Lipon had an assist and a whole lot of sandpaper.
“We just wanted to come out and play hard,” Smith said. “We need to focus on playing hard and things will open up. If we’re focused on the end result, some things can go sideways.”
The Blazers also won this one by beating Portland goaltender Mac (The Truth) Carruth four times on 11 shots in the second period, turning a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 lead in the process. They also triumphed by winning pretty much every one-on-one battle for two periods, no matter where it took place, and that was something they had failed to do in 4-1 and 4-0 setbacks in Portland.
“The effort was there,” Charron said. “We had more jump. We skated well. We took the body.”
Defenceman Joel Edmundson got it started just 1:07 into the second, fourth-line winger Aaron Macklin kept it going with a nifty wrap-around against the flow at 8:02, and Bozon scored twice, at 14:56 and 17:04, to hand control to the Blazers.
“Smith, Bozon, Lipon got things going and that’s what we needed,” said Charron, whose team went into the game not having beaten Carruth in 117 minutes 50 seconds. “We needed some offensive production, something positive to build on.”
All of that came after a first period in which Portland had a number of glorious scoring chances and the Blazers were fortunate to escape at 1-1.
That, of course, was thanks to Cheveldave, the 19-year-old sophomore from Calgary who missed a practice last week as he attended the funeral of a grandfather.
“He was in perfect control of every situation,” Charron said of his goaltender, who made 35 stops. “He was really strong. He was never out of position . . . a very strong game by him.”
Portland defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon agreed.
“Their goalie played well,” he said. “We got some chances and Cheveldave stood on his head over there. He kept them in it right away.”
Right away was when Portland was handed a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes just 4:53 into the game.
“The 5-on-3 didn’t make us too comfortable,” Charron admitted. “But I thought we did a pretty good job under the circumstances. Their first goal, it was so early in the game we knew we had plenty of time.”
The Winterhawks were only able to score once on that PP, when the puck appeared to bounce past Cheveldave off an ankle belonging to winger Ty Rattie. The Blazers got that one back at 16:37 when Smith redirected a Bozon shot through Carruth’s legs.
In between, it was the Cheveldave show.
There was a come-across stop on Oliver Bjorkstrand early on, and three outstanding saves in one flurry during a late Portland power play as he beat Nic Petan on a back-door play, then robbed Petan with a glove, and got a shoulder on a Rattie back-door shot. And let’s not forget stoning Wotherspoon with a glove when he went in alone after a big-league pass from defenceman Seth Jones. All of that came in a 50-second span.
Late in the period, Cheveldave beat Chase De Leo from in tight.
It’s no wonder the crowd was chanting.
“I felt great,” Cheveldave said, “and I was seeing everything. That’s all I can ask for. Our defencemen were clearing bodies out in front of me and I was able to see the puck really well.”
While the Blazers were savouring the sweet taste of victory, the Winterhawks already were working on erasing the loss from their minds.
“We can’t dwell on this night,” Wotherspoon said. “We have to learn from our mistakes. We have to come out strong in the first period and show them that we’re ready to play, and clean up our mistakes.”
“It doesn’t happen very often,” Green said, “but tonight we just weren’t sharp in a lot of areas. The good thing is we get right back at it (tonight).”
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 4,642. . . . Each team was 1-for-5 on the PP. . . . Carruth stopped 24 shots. . . . Green said he never once thought about yanking Carruth. “Not at all,” the coach offered. “I don’t think he (gave up a bad one). I liked Mac’s game tonight . . . it didn’t cross my mind at all.” . . . The Winterhawks lost F Joe Mahon to a game misconduct eight minutes into the first period. Green said he understood the penalty was for “a gesture of some kind, but I’m not 100 per cent sure.” . . . The Daily News Three Stars: 1. Cheveldave: In the zone; 2. Bozon: Looks healthy; 3. D Joel Edmundson, Kamloops: Big in his zone. . . . Earlier in the day, Carruth was named the CHL’s goaltender of the week after stopping 60 of 61 shots in the first two games of this series. . . . Both goaltenders have terrific playoff beards, but Cheveldave gave a bit of an edge to Carruth. “He’s got a pretty good one,” Cheveldave said with a laugh. “He’s got a year on me, though.”

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