End of dream
By Gregg Drinnan
The dream died at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday night.
The Kamloops Blazers gave up a goal at 1:01 of the first period and went on to drop a 2-0 decision to the Portland Winterhawks in Game 7 of the WHL’s Western Conference final.
The Blazers had lost the first three games of this series, then roared back to win three in a row to take the best-of-seven series to the limit. In the process, they caught the imagination of hockey fans across North America, with even personalities on TSN and Hockey Night in Canada providing updates on last night’s game during NHL playoff telecasts.
The Blazers had the game’s first real scoring chance when right-winger J.C. Lipon fired a shot that beat Portland goaltender Mac Carruth but glanced harmlessly away off the crossbar.
Seconds later, the Winterhawks opened the scoring when centre Marcel Noebels found himself alone in the slot and was able to put the puck through goaltender Cam Lanigan’s legs.
Portland nursed that 1-0 lead into the third period — the Blazers had outscored the Winterhawks 10-2 in the third periods of the previous three games — when Kamloops was given an early opportunity as forward Oliver Gabriel went off for tripping Jordan DePape. But the Blazers’ power play came up empty.
And the Winterhawks stretched their lead to 2-0 at 9:49 when Cam Reid and Brendan Leipsic burned the Blazers on a 2-on-1 break. Reid threw a perfect pass to Leipsic, who scored his third goal of the playoffs.
Shortly after that goal, Lanigan made two huge saves off Portland sniper Ty Rattie to keeps the Blazers’ hopes alive.
But the visitors weren’t able to beat Carruth, who stopped 32 shots in earning his second shutout of these playoffs and the third of his career. Carruth, a native of Shorewood, Minn., who turned 20 on March 25, had given up 18 goals over his last three games. Prior to that, he had been beaten just 15 times in seven games.
Lanigan, who took over the starting role when Cole Cheveldave suffered a concussion in Game 1 of the series, made 37 saves.
The Blazers were attempting to become only the second team in WHL history to lose the first three games of a best-of-seven series and come back to win Game 7. In 1996, the Spokane Chiefs lost the first three games and rebounded to beat the Winterhawks in a first-round series.
The Winterhawks will meet the Tri-City Americans in the Western Conference final. The Americans beat the visiting Chiefs 3-2 in Game 7 of that semifinal last night.
The final will begin Friday in Kennewick, Wash., with Game 2 there on Saturday.
JUST NOTES: Attendance was 7,823... The Blazers were 0-for-4 on the power play; the Winterhawks were 0-for-1... Kamloops F Colin Smith, a 35-goal scorer in the regular season, was hampered by a shoulder injury... Cheveldave was back in uniform — he backed up Lanigan — for the first time since Game 1 on April 6. Cheveldave has been out with a concussion since being run over by Portland F Oliver Gabriel late in that game... The Blazers scratched F Chase Schaber (leg), G Taran Kozun, F Brock Balson, D Landon Cross, D Jordan Thomson and F Brayden Gelsinger... Schaber, the Blazers’ captain, had his season end when he suffered a skate cut to his left leg on March 27 in Game 3 against the Victoria Royals. He is on crutches and that kept him from making the trip to Portland... Kamloops D Bronson Maschmeyer, who scored twice including that dramatic winner in Game 6, and F Brandon Herrod, who came over from the Prince Albert Raiders on Dec. 31, played their final WHL games as they have used up their major junior eligibility.