#WHLPlayoffs Roundup: Gardiner goes wild as Rockets, Thunderbirds advance

Marissa Baecker


Friday night featured a full complement of WHL post-season contests, with three teams look at opportunities to advance.

Out west, the Seattle Thunderbirds broke out the brooms, completing a four-game sweep of the Everett Silvertips to advance to the Western Conference Championship for the second consecutive year. Their opponent – for the second consecutive season – comes in the form of the Kelowna Rockets, who scored a Game 5 win over the Portland Winterhawks courtesy a big performance from Reid Gardiner.

Out east, the Regina Pats staved off elimination by taking a Game 5 victory on home ice, setting up another do-or-die situation in Swift Current Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Lethbridge Hurricanes took grabbed the reigns with a Game 5 triumph over the Medicine Hat Tigers to take a 3-2 series lead with an opportunity to close out the Tabbies Sunday night back in Lethbridge.

Here are some dirty details for ya…

Swift Current Broncos (2) at Regina Pats (3)
Broncos lead series 3-2
Game 6: Saturday, April 15 – Credit Union i-Plex, Swift Current – 7 p.m. MT

The Regina Pats aren’t done just yet.

With their backs against the wall and a pivotal Game 5 on home ice at the Brandt Centre in Regina, the Pats secured a 3-2 victory, extending the best-of-seven series to a Game 6, set for Saturday night (7 p.m. MT) back in Swift Current.

After Colby Sissons opened the scoring for the Broncos, the Pats rattled off three consecutive goals to turn the tide.

Sam Steel registered his first goal of the series – and fifth of the post-season – to tie the game with a late power-play effort in the first period.

Then over a span of 38 seconds in the early stages of the second period, the Pats struck again. First it was Connor Hobbs finding the back of the net to make it a 2-1 game 3:49 into the period before Nick Henry collected his third of the pre-season 38 seconds late to make it a 3-1 margin in favour of the hosts.

Glenn Gawdin managed to get the Broncos within one, tallying a power-play goal of his own with 6:42 to go in regulation, but that’s as close as the Broncos managed in Game 5.

Tyler Brown made 30 saves for the win, while Jordan Papirny turned aside 33 in defeat.

Both Henry (1G-1A) and Steel (1G-1A) finished with multipoint efforts.

After failing to put down the Pats in Game 5 on the road, the Broncos will get another opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference final Saturday night (7 p.m.) at the Credit Union i-Plex back in Swift Current.

Everett Silvertips (1) at Seattle Thunderbirds (4)
Thunderbirds win series 4-0

For the second consecutive season, the Seattle Thunderbirds will compete for a Western Conference championship.

The Thunderbirds made that reality with a 4-1 win over the Everett Silvertips, completing a four-game sweep of their U.S. Division rivals Friday night at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash.

Seattle set the tone by jumping out to a 3-0 lead.

First, it was Donovan Neuls scoring on an unassisted effort with 5:57 to go in the first period before Keegan Kolesar struck for his fifth of the post-season with 3:13 to go, giving the Thunderbirds a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.

Mathew Barzal made it a 3-0 game by scoring his fourth of the playoffs – this one on a power play – only 6:24 into the second period.

Dominic Zwerger sparked the Silvertips with a stellar short-handed marker to make it 3-1 barely past the mid-mark of the second period, but the Everett offense ran dry from there.

Kolesar scored his second of the night 2:46 later to make it 4-1 and the Thunderbirds went into lockdown mode from there.

Rookie goaltender Carl Stankowski made 24 saves for the win, while Carter Hart stopped 27 in defeat.

Kolesar finished his night with two goals and an assist.

With the victory, the Thunderbirds move on to the Western Conference Championship series where they will take on the Kelowna Rockets for the second consecutive season.

Portland Winterhawks (2) at Kelowna Rockets (6)
Rockets win series 4-1

Reid Gardiner played like a man possessed, scoring four times and adding two assists, as the Kelowna Rockets advanced to the 2017 Western Conference Championship series with a 6-2 win over the Portland Winterhawks in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series Friday night.

Gardiner started the scoring 4:54 into Friday’s festivities, scoring on an early power-play opportunity. It was the first of four power-play strikes for the Rockets, three of which came in the first period alone.

The next culprit was captain Rodney Southam, who notched another power-play goal less than four minutes later, with Gardiner earning a primary assist on the play. It was the 21-year-old Gardiner securing the third power-play goal of the night less than four minutes after that as he collected his 10th goal of the playoffs to make it a 3-0 game in favour of the home team.

The second period brought about a turn of events as Joachim Blichfeld and Matt Revel scored back-to-back markers in a span of 1:58 to suddenly make it a one-goal game. Revel’s tally came with the Winterhawks short a man and the score remained 3-2 heading into the second intermission.

As the third period rolled out, the Rockets – and Gardiner – took control once again.

Gardiner restored the two-goal lead 9:27 in before utilizing another power play to make it 5-2 with only 3:58 remaining.

With goaltender Cole Kehler at the bench for the extra attacker, Dillon Dube hit an empty net after taking a pass from – you guessed it – Mr. Gardiner.

Michael Herringer finished the night with 27 saves, while Kehler stopped 38 of 43.

Nick Merkley (2A), Dube (1G-3A), Gardiner (4G-2A) and Calvin Thurkauf (2A) fueled the offense for Kelowna.

With the win, the Rockets advance to their fourth consecutive Western Conference Championship series and second straight conference crown matchup against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Lethbridge Hurricanes (5) at Medicine Hat Tigers (4)
Hurricanes lead series 3-2
Game 6: Sunday, April 16 – Enmax Centre, Lethbridge – 6 p.m. MT

A long point shot from Brennan Riddle settled a back-and-forth affair at the Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat as the Lethbridge Hurricanes claimed a 5-4 triumph Friday night in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series with the Medicine Tigers.

Riddle’s first goal of the post-season came 10:27 into the third period, giving the Hurricanes a 5-3 advantage at the time. Tigers defenceman David Quenneville sent a power-play blast to the back of the net less than four minutes later to get his club within one, but that’s as close as they’d get as the Hurricanes hung on for the pivotal win to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven set.

A wild first period saw the two teams go blow for blow.

Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong opened the scoring with his eighth of the playoffs only 3:36 in before Max Gerlach tied the game 1-1 less than three minutes later.

Reinserted into the lineup, Ryan Bowen broke in alone and used a slick backhand effort to make it a 2-1 game in favour of the visiting Hurricanes 2:16 after Gerlach had tied it. That lead didn’t last long as Clayton Kirichenko outwaited goaltender Stuart Skinner before sending a quick shot to the back of the net, making it a 2-2 game 12:44 into the first period.

Before the period came to a close, Wong found his second of the night, lifting a backhand past goaltender Michael Bullion to convert on a power play with 2:12 left before the buzzer.

After a five-goal performance in the first period, the proceedings settled marginally in the second period as Gerlach scored his second of the evening to make it a 3-3 game after 40 minutes of play.

Ryan Vandervlis put the Hurricanes ahead 4-3 with a power-play marker 4:14 into the third period, then came Riddle’s long one.

Skinner made 37 saves for the win, while Bullion stopped 22 in the loss.

Wong (2G) and rookie Dylan Cozens (2A) recorded multipoint efforts for the Hurricanes. Kristians Rubins (2A) and Gerlach (2G) did the same for the Tigers.

The Hurricanes look ahead to an opportunity to advance when they host Game 6 on Sunday (6 p.m. MT) at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.

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