By Andrew Eide
The Kelowna Rockets landed a first big punch Thursday night to let the Thunderbirds know that they weren’t going to overlook them again this year.
The Rockets capitalized on Seattle penalties and two goals from Damon Severson to win going away 6-2 at Prospera Place in Kelowna. The win gives the Rockets the early 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and leaves the T-Birds licking their wounds a bit. Seattle got a goal from Mathew Barzal and Alex Delnov but made it too easy for Kelowna.
Nothing went well for Seattle in this game. They gave Kelowna six power play chances which led to three power play goals for the Rockets in the first half of the game. On top of that, the T-Birds were disorganized in their own end for most of the night, which led to numerous odd man chances.
“Surprised and upset,” is how head coach Steve Konowalchuk described his feelings on the night.
The mistakes started early for Seattle as Kelowna scored two goals in the first five minutes of the game. The first came on the tail end of a Seattle power play as Tyrell Goulbourne raced down the ice and took a shot that Taran Kozun stopped. The problem was nobody from Seattle picked up Cole Linaker who banged home the rebound.
While not technically a short handed goal, it had the same affect as one. Two minutes later, the T-Birds penalty parade began and Rourke Chartier deposited a loose puck past Kozun to build the early two-goal lead.
Seattle picked up a bit of momentum up half way through the period when a Rockets turnover led to a two-on-one chance for Mathew Barzal and Justin Hickman. The two passed the puck back and forth and Barzal beat Jordon Cooke for his first career WHL playoff goal.
Any momentum picked up by that goal was soon erased as Seattle went short handed again and Severson scored his first of the night from the point. Just like that it was 3-1, all in the first period.
“Our power play gives up a shortie and then they score two power play goals,” Konowalchuk said. “That’s their first three goals and its not good enough.”
On the night the T-Birds gave up six more power plays, something that has been a common theme in the playoffs. In their six games, Seattle has been short handed 31 times and have allowed eight goals. The T-Birds want to play physical hockey, but they have to stay disciplined.
“A combination of everything, selfish penalties, we were a little bit too aggressive,” Konowalchuk said of the penalties. “I didn’t like a couple of calls either. They embellished a couple of times and got the call, that can’t happen this time of year, but we deserved a couple.”
Seattle’s penalty kill struggled early in this game, giving up the three goals on Kelowna’s first four power play attempts. They have now given up four power play goals in their last fourteen short handed attempts. With the fire power that Kelowna has, allowing that many chances can only spell doom.
“We weren’t there to clean up in front of the net,” Konowalchuk said of his penalty kill. “We didn’t block a shot, just weren’t desperate enough.”
In the second period there was another moment where Seattle could have climbed back in the game. Three minutes into the second Delnov beat Cooke with a wrist shot from the face off circle for his second playoff score. That cut the lead back down to one and gave the T-Birds some hope. Sam McKechnie then broke down ice on a clear break away, got a shot off but could not beat Cooke, who made a nice save.
That kept Seattle from tying the game and the wheels would start to fall off later in the period.
Kelowna picked up their third power play goal with just under seven minutes left in the period when Ryan Olsen scored. Then, with less than a minute left, Madison Bowey flung a shot from the point that found its way past Kozun to give the Rockets a 5-2 lead heading into the third.
Any hope the T-Birds might have had for a miracle comeback was dashed 24 seconds into the third period when Severson scored his second of the night after he weaved around a Seattle forward to give himself room.
In the end, the disorganization in Seattle’s end allowed far too many quality scoring chances for Kelowna. The Rockets feature the league’s second best offense and capitalized often Thursday night.
“Any time you give up six goals it’s not good,” Konowalchuk said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to work on five-on-five, special teams.”
The T-Birds will now have a day off to clear this game away, fix the issues they had and get back to their game plan for Game 2 on Saturday. Despite the score, this was just one loss and in the end it won’t matter what the spread was if Seattle can bounce back.
“We’ve got to go and win the next game,” Konowalchuk said. “We’ve got to correct our mistakes and win the next game. That’s what we’ve got to go do. It is only one loss but we’ve got to go win the next game, and get going.”
Game 2 is Saturday at Prospera Place in Kelowna and face off is at 7:05 P.M.
The 31 power plays that Seattle has allowed is the second most in the playoffs so far. They trail the eliminated Calgary Hitmen who allowed 36 in their six-game opening round loss to Kootenay.
The Rockets feature a good number of high powered forwards in their lineup but are driven by their back end. Thursday they picked up three goals from defenseman as Severson had two and Bowey one.
Seattle was 0-for-3 on the power play and have not scored a post season power play goal against the Rockets in 30 straight attempts.
Justin Hickman had an assist on Thursday night but the Kelowna native has yet to score a goal at Prospera Place (Stick tap to Rockets broadcaster Regan Bartell for the stat).
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.