For the Kelowna Rockets, it comes down to this: Win tonight and maybe they’re in.
The WHL’s regular season ends this weekend and 15 of the league’s 16 playoff positions have been clinched. The remaining spot is being hotly contested between Kelowna and Kamloops. The playoff race winner advances to the post-season while the loser has its season come to an end.
The two teams are tied in points at 62 and each has just one game left, both taking place on Saturday. Kelowna hosts Vancouver at 7:05 p.m., while Kamloops visits Prince George at 7 p.m.
READ MORE: WHL Roundup: Friday, March 15, 2019
If one team wins and the other loses, the winner captures third place in B.C. Division standings and a first-round playoff series against Victoria. If Kelowna and Kamloops finish tied in points and wins, a tiebreaker game will be needed.
That game, if necessary, will take place in Kamloops. The Blazers won the head-to-head series with the Rockets this season, earning the right to host the tiebreaker.
Heading into Friday’s games, the Rockets had a one-point lead over the Blazers. By night’s end, though, the two clubs were level on points at 62 apiece.
Vancouver 2, Kelowna 1
At Langley, Kelowna (27-32-6-2) had a chance to increase its slim margin, but fell to the B.C. Divison-leading Giants.
The game was tied 1-1, and overtime looked possible, but Vancouver pulled ahead with a power-play goal with just 3:10 left in the contest.
Alex Kannok Leipert and Dylan Plouffe, with the game winner, scored for Vancouver (48-15-2-2, 100 pts.). Kyle Crosbie, at 11:01 of the second period to make it 1-1, replied for Kelowna.
Roman Basran stopped 29 of 31 shots for the Rockets, with Trent Miner turning aside 17 of 18 shots for the Giants.
Kelowna was 0-for-1 on the power play while Vancouver was 1-for-1. The attendance was 4,560.
READ MORE: Devils rally to beat Canucks in overtime 3-2
Prince George 5, Kamloops 4 (OT)
At Kamloops, Prince George, last place in B.C. Division standings with just 46 points, did the Rockets a favour, as they knocked off the Blazers in overtime.
Vladislav Mikhalchuk, with two goals, Rhett Rhinehart, Josh Curtis and Mike MacLean scored for Prince George (19-40-5-3), which trailed 2-1 heading into the third period. In the third, The Cougars scored three times to forge ahead 4-2, but the Blazers rallied to force overtime. Mikhaulchuk ended the game at 3:46 of overtime.
Kobe Mohr, Ryley Appelt, Kyrell Sopotyk and Connor Zary replied for Kamloops (27-32-6-2). Sopotyk scored at 13:39 of the third to make it 4-3, with Zary scoring at 19:04 to make it 4-4.
Taylor Gauthier stopped 26 of 30 shots for the Cougars, with Dylan Garand stopping 24 of 29 shots for the Blazers.
Prince George was 0-for-3 on the power play while Kamloops was 1-for-3. The attendance was 4,629.
Kelowna vs. Vancouver
The Rockets are facing another big test tonight. Vancouver is 7-0-0-1 against Kelowna this season, with the only blemish being a 4-3 shootout loss on Jan. 27. Apart from that, it’s been a season of success for the Giants against their Okanagan rivals.
- Vancouver is 8-1-0-1 in its past 10 games, while Kelowna is 3-4-2-1.
- The Giants are 22-9-1-1 on the road while the Rockets are 14-17-2-1 at home.
- When leading after the 1st period, Vancouver is 20-1-0-1. Kelowna is 14-1-0-1.
- When leading after the 2nd period, Vancouver is 31-1-0-0. Kelowna is 20-1-1-1.
- When trailing after the 1st period, Vancouver is 11-9-1-1. Kelowna is 4-23-3-0.
- When trailing after the 2nd period, Vancouver is 4-12-1-2. Kelowna is 2-25-4-1.
Kamloops vs. Prince George
For Rockets fans, getting the Cougars to upset the Blazers again is a tall ask, as Kamloops is 6-0-1-1 against Prince George this season. However, their last two games were one-goal affairs: Friday’s 5-4 overtime game and a Cougars 2-1 shootout win on Feb. 22.
- Kamloops is 5-3-2-0 in its past 10 games, while Prince George is 3-6-1-0.
- The Blazers are 10-19-3-1 on the road while the Cougars are 10-17-4-2 at home.
- When leading after the 1st period, Kamloops is 16-2-2-0. Prince George is 10-12-2-1.
- When leading after the 2nd period, Kamloops is 19-1-1-1. Prince George is 13-2-2-1.
- When trailing after the 1st period, Kamloops is 3-23-0-1. Prince George is 1-22-1-0.
- When trailing after the 2nd period, Kamloops is 5-23-0-1. Prince George is 2-32-2-0.
B.C. HOCKEY LEAGUE
Trail 3, Vernon 1
At Vernon, the Smoke Eaters reeled off three unanswered goals in the third period to defeat the Vipers and take a 1-0 lead in their second-round playoff series.
Braeden Tuck, Spencer McLean and Carter Jones scored for Trail, which trailed 1-0 early in the third following scoreless action for the first 40 minutes. Tuck made it 1-1 at 3:37, with McLean giving the Smokies the lead at 5:49. Jones closed out the scoring with an empty-net marker at 18:55.
Ben Sanderson replied for Vernon, which opened the scoring at 2:21 of the third.
Donovan Buskey stopped 16 of 17 shots for the Smoke Eaters, with Aidan Porter turning aside 21 of 23 shots for the Vipers.
Trail was 0-for-3 on the power play while Vernon was 0-for-1. The attendance was 1,771.
The series continues Saturday with Game 2 in Vernon at 7 p.m. Trail will host Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wedneday at 7 p.m.