Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Wild drop defensive battle to Kelowna in WHL playoff matchup Saturday

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WENATCHEE – In Friday night’s Western Hockey League playoff opener for the Wenatchee Wild and Kelowna Rockets, the goals came fast and furious, especially in a second period that saw the teams combine for seven goals. Saturday night, defense was what did the trick.

Wenatchee wasn’t able to repeat its comeback feat in Saturday’s second game of their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal matchup, as the Rockets prevailed for a 3-1 win to tie the series at a game apiece. The series shifts to Canada for the third and fourth games this Tuesday and Wednesday.

One night after posting the opening goal 67 seconds in, the Rockets gained the early momentum at the 70-second mark, when Caden Price’s shot was tipped by Andrew Cristall for the 1-0 advantage. Kelowna doubled the lead at the 12:34 mark of the period, when Price hammered a one-timer from the top of the Wild zone that caromed off the end boards – Trae Johnson punched in the loose puck to push the visitors ahead 2-0 at the break.

Wenatchee battled for the next 19 minutes to put a dent in the Rockets’ lead, and did it at the 11:14 mark of the second. Briley Wood sent a pass from below the goal line out to Sam Ward, who sent a one-timer past Jari Kykkanen from just above the left-wing faceoff dot and cut the lead back to 2-1.

This time, though, the tying goal never came – the Wild could not convert on a delay-of-game call to Kelowna’s Max Graham, and killed three penalties of their own in the third period. Luke Schelter chased down a stretch pass up the left wing and tossed the puck into an empty Wenatchee net with 2:30 to play – Daniel Hauser returned to the bench shortly after the ensuing faceoff, but Ward’s second-period tally was all the Wild offense mustered on Saturday.

“We knew that going into tonight, with a high-scoring game last night. With 14 goals in a game, you could kind of see this one coming, that it could be a tight-checking game,” said Wenatchee assistant coach Andrew Sarauer. “On a back-to-back for both teams, guys are a little short on energy, and it was more of a playoff-style game tonight. There weren’t a lot of scoring chances out there tonight – guys had to fight to get to areas and get to the crease. Give (Kelowna) credit – they were blocking shots all night, and their goalie stood big, and we just couldn’t find a way to tie it up.”

Ward scored his first postseason goal in only his second career WHL playoff game, while Briley Wood notched an assist one night after racking up six points and tying the organization’s playoff record. Price had the only multi-point game for either side, posting three assists for Kelowna. Hauser finished with the loss despite making 24 saves, while Kykkanen earned his first career WHL playoff victory behind 21 saves. The Wild were excellent on the penalty kill, turning aside all five Kelowna power plays on the night.

Game 3 of the series is scheduled for Tuesday evening in Kelowna, while Game 4 awaits on Wednesday. The opening puck drop for both games at Prospera Place is set for 7:05 p.m. The split in the opening two games also means that the Wild and Rockets will play a fifth game at Town Toyota Center on Friday at 7 p.m. – tickets for that game are on sale now at 509-888-7825, or by visiting the team office at Town Toyota Center. 2024-25 season tickets also remain on sale – updated news and information on Wild hockey are always available through the team’s website and on the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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