The Kelowna Rockets get set for round two of the 2017 WHL Playoffs against their familiar playoff foe in the Portland Winterhawks.
Coming off of winning arguably this seasons biggest upset of the first round of the playoffs, the Winterhawks seem to be on a roll after eliminating B.C. divisional champions the Prince George Cougars. Head Coach Jason Smith says these two teams match up quite differently than the Rockets and Kamloops Blazers did.
“They’re a team that plays with more pace than Kamloops. They really try and use the speed that they have on their team, and their D is really active in joining the rush,” said Smith. “We’re going to have to be aware of their D getting involved in the offence and make sure we’re aware of their speedy forwards leaving the zone.”
Portland scored 278 goals in the regular season, second in the Western Conference to only the Rockets who scored 283. Smith stressed if his club focuses on their defensive end the offense will follow.
“We have to be prepared to compete and be very detail oriented in our defensive zone. We don’t want to give them any free offense by turning the puck over at the offensive blue line,” Smith said. “We have to make sure we’re getting the puck out of our zone and deep into their zone. That forces them to spend less time in our zone and more time defending.”
The Rockets and Winterhawks have been here before. The first time these two teams met in the post season, the Winterhawks knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs with a 4-2 series win in the second round in 2011. The next season the Rockets were swept by the Winterhawks in the opening round. Both of those seasons the Winterhawks went on to fall short in the WHL final (they won the title the next season but did not cross paths with the Rockets). The Rockets met the Winterhawks in the 2014 playoffs and lost that series 4-1. They met again the following year in 2015, and this time the Rockets took the series 4-2 knocking Portland out for the first time while on their way to an eventual WHL title. They haven’t met in the year since, but the two are still playoff rivals.
The bench boss Smith says his team doesn’t focus on what happened in the past, but rather on the task at hand.
“We’re just going to continue to do what we’ve done all year. We’re going to worry about game one tomorrow and be focused and ready to play,” said Smith. “We expect them to work hard every day, every shift from start to finish and we have to be able to counter their work ethic. What happened in the past carries no bearing on what’s going to go on in the series now and it’s about us being focused game by game.”
Of course, a much more accurate representation of how these two teams match up would be the season series between the two. The two clubs met four times throughout the regular season. The Rockets took the first two decisions in Portland on back-to-back nights on October 29th and 30th by scores of 5-3 and 3-2. The teams didn’t face each other again until January 21st when the Rockets collected their third victory over Portland of the season by a score of 4-1. Portland exacted some revenge a week later when the Rockets allowed four unanswered goals including the final tally of the night coming with four seconds left on the clock allowing them to edge the Rockets 5-4. Kelowna took the season series with a record of 3-1-0-0 vs. the Winterhawks.
Kelowna beat Kamloops in six games prior to this series. Kelowna took games one and two in Kelowna 4-0 and 3-2. The Rockets then lost game three 4-1 in Kamloops, but bounced back with a 1-0 victory the next night. Kamloops answered back once again with another 4-1 victory, but the Rockets ended the Blazers hopes in game six with a 4-2 win in Kamloops.
Portland beat Prince George in six games in the first round. Portland won game one in PG 4-2 before losing the next night 5-1. The series shifted to Portland where they lost again 6-1. Portland bounced back with a 5-4 win. They went back to PG and the Winterhawks won again 5-3. Portland finished the Cougars in game six in Portland with a final score of 4-2.
Big impact players through round one:
Reid Gardiner: Five goals and an assist for six points through the first six playoff games including a hat-trick in game six.
Dillon Dube: Four goals two assists for six points through six games including two game winning goals. For much of the series Dube was a dominant force against the Blazers.
Cal Foote: One goal and three assists through six games while logging big minutes in all situations. Foote averaged just under 25 minutes a night vs. Kamloops – almost a full minute more than the next closest player.
Michael Herringer: Four wins and two losses through the first round that included Herringer posting two shutouts, a .928 save percentage, and a 2.00 goals against average.
Cody Glass: Two goals and four assists for six points through six games. After leading the Winterhawks in the regular season with 94 points, Glass hasn’t slowed down.
Keegan Iverson: Three goals and two assists for five points through six games including two goals and four points on the power play.
Caleb Jones: Six assists through six games, Jones is the Winterhawks go to guy in all situations.
Cole Kehler: Four wins and two losses through six games with a .894 save percentage, and a 4.02 goals against average.
The puck drops in game one of this series at 7:05pm at Prospera Place. Game two goes at the same time, same place on the following night.
The whole series schedule goes as follows:
|1||Portland||@||Kelowna||Friday, April 7||7:05|
|2||Portland||@||Kelowna||Saturday, April 8||7:05|
|3||Kelowna||@||Portland||Tuesday, April 11||7:00|
|4||Kelowna||@||Portland||Wednesday, April 12||7:00|
|5 *||Portland||@||Kelowna||Friday, April 14||7:05|
|6 *||Kelowna||@||Portland||Sunday, April 16||5:00|
|7 *||Portland||@||Kelowna||Tuesday, April 18||7:05|
* If necessary