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#WHLPlayoffs Roundup: T-Birds outlast ‘Tips; Estephan shines on Saturday
Chris Mast

Three of the four second-round WHL Playoffs series were in action on Saturday night – none of which were short on excitement.

In Medicine Hat, the Lethbridge Hurricanes stole back home-ice advantage with gutsy win in a back-and-forth affair.

In Kelowna, the Rockets outlasted the Portland Winterhawks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.

In Everett, the lower-seeded Seattle Thunderbirds looked anything but, hanging on Saturday to take a 2-0 series lead back to Kent.

Here’s how it all happened…

Lethbridge Hurricanes (7) at Medicine Hat Tigers (4)
Series tied 1-1
Game 3: Tuesday, April 11 – Enmax Centre, Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
*All games available on Shaw TV, Shaw HD 304, BlueSky 604, Shaw Direct 120/620

After dropping a definitive 4-0 decision to the Tigers on Friday, Lethbridge didn’t start out much better on Saturday night at the Canalta Centre.

It took all of 20 seconds for Zach Fischer to give the home team a 1-0 edge. For good measure, Fischer added his second goal of the game just over two minutes later.

You could forgive the ‘Canes for being a little stunned, but the squad that rallied from a 3-1 deficit in round one against Red Deer soon found more of that fight.

Giorgio Estephan drove down the right wing and rifled a wrist shot high, short side on Michael Bullion at the 8:16 mark before Alec Baer did the same less than 30 seconds later.

Ryan Jevne regained the lead for the Tigers when he finished off a beautiful tick-tac-toe passing play at 11:10 on the man advantage. Then, before the first period was out, Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong wired home his sixth of the post-season to conclude a wild first period and send both teams to the intermission in a 3-3 deadlock.

After James Hamblin gave the Tigers a 4-3 lead just over six minutes into the second frame, Lethbridge tied the game in short order once again, this time from an unlikely source. Underage forward Dylan Cozens (2001) notched his first career WHL Playoffs goal at the 8:37 mark. Cozens, who hails from Whitehorse, was selected by the ‘Canes 19th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.

It was a question of who would blink first in the third period. It wasn’t Estephan, who notched his second of the game on the power play with just over seven minutes to go in regulation.

The Tigers had opportunity to push the game to extra time when the Hurricanes where whistled for a minor with 3:30 to go, but a pair of empty-netters sealed their fate, one of which came from Estephan who capped off his hat trick and a four-point night.



Portland Winterhawks (2) at Kelowna Rockets (5)

Rockets lead series 2-0
Game 3: Tuesday, April 11 – Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Portland – 7 p.m. PT

After a hard-fought scoreless first, top 2017 NHL Draft prospect Kole Lind struck opened the scoring for the Rockets when he found himself alone in the high slot at the 7:33 mark and blasted his third of the playoffs past Cole Kehler.

Before the midway point, Tomas Soustal parked himself in front of Kehler and tipped home a Lucas Johansen point shot to give the Rockets a 2-0 lead.

Unlike Friday night, when Kelowna built up a 4-0 lead, the Winterhawks responded on Saturday to make it a 2-1 game before the second frame was through. Colton Veloso chipped the puck deep into the Kelowna end, fought off a defender and found Joachim Blichfeld with a beautiful pass to give the ‘Hawks life.

The Winterhawks pushed for an equalizer, but James Hilsendager buried the eventual game-winning goal with just under six minutes to go in regulation.

Nick Merkley added a pair of empty netters while Ryan Hughes scored a late one for Portland. Reid Gardiner and Dillon Dube each had a pair of assists for the Rockets.

Seattle Thunderbirds (4) at Everett Silvertips (3)
Thunderbirds lead series 2-0
Game 3: Tuesday, April 11 – ShoWare Centre, Seattle – 7:05 p.m. PT

After winning Game 1 in a thriller, it was another nail-biting affair in Everett on Saturday.

Scott Eansor opened the scoring for the visitors at 7:05 when he slashed in the Silvertips’ zone and placed a perfect shot past reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart.

It only took 51 seconds for Bryce Kindopp to respond for Everett with his first career WHL Playoffs goal.

Five minutes later, Connor Dewar drove out of the corner and shelved a backhand past the Stankowski in the Silvertips’ net to give the home side a 2-1 edge. The puck was in-and-out of the net so quick some discussion was required, but the goal stood and the Thunderbirds were looking up found themselves behind after 20 minutes.

Zack Andrusiak levelled the score at the 11:12 mark of the second period. Then, 18 seconds later, Sami Moilanen beat Hart with a quick deke to the forehand and, just like that, the T-Birds were back on top.

Edmonton Oilers prospect Ethan Bear ripped a point shot over the shoulder of Hart before the end of the second to give Seattle a 4-2 lead after 40. The goal marked Bear’s third of the WHL Playoff and his 12th point, tops amongst all defenders.

Calgary Flames prospect Eetu Tuulola brought the ‘Tips to within a goal when he knocked home a puck at the side of the net with 7:27 left in regulation.

The Thunderbirds only managed a single shot on net in the third period, but hung on for the win despite an Everett surge to take a 2-0 series lead back home for Games 3 and 4.

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