KELOWNA – Teams rebounding from three-games-to-none deficit to win a playoff series are a rarity in sports.
Still, as evidenced by the 1975 New York Islanders, the 1996 Spokane Chiefs, and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, it’s not inconceivable.
It’s also one of the threads of hope the Kelowna Rockets are hanging on to in their WHL opening-round playoff series with Portland.
Despite their predicament – trailing the high-powered Winterhawks 3-0 – Rockets’ head coach Ryan Huska said waving the white flag was not an option heading into Game 4 Thursday at Prospera Place.
“We’re in a tough, tough hole but tomorrow’s a new day and we’re still alive,” said Huska.
“That’s what’s important to remember. There have been lots of teams in history in whatever sport that have found a way back from a three-nothing deficit. You just have to continue to believe you can beat the team. It starts with one game, we don’t want to look at the big picture, we have to worry about one game and that’s all we have to focus on.”
The Rockets were hoping Brett Bulmer’s return to the lineup would provide a spark for Game 4.
The club’s leading goal scorer from the regular season sat out Tuesday’s game with a suspension, the result of a major penalty for kneeing in Game 2 Saturday in Portland.
Without or without Bulmer, Kelowna has been unable to contain the Winterhawks’ dynamic duo of Sven Baertschi and Ty Rattie. Baertschi, a top Calgary Flames’ prospect, has two goals and seven assists, while Rattie has struck for 5+3. Each had two goals and two helpers in a 6-3 ‘Hawks win Tuesday night at Prospera Place.
Huska thought Game 3 was this club’s best effort of the playoffs, but it wasn’t enough against two of the league’s most dangerous and opportunistic forwards.
“We have to find a way to play smarter,” said Huska. “I thought the work-hard was there, but we have to work smarter at times, too, so we know exactly when that line’s on the ice. The decisions you make with the puck have to be very good, because if you do make a mistake, those players are going to make you pay.”
If the Rockets were unable to prolong the series, it will mark the end of the major junior careers of at least four players – over-agers Adam Brown, Cody Chikie and Brett Lyon, and Bulmer, who is likely headed to the pro ranks in 2012-13.
Game 5, if necessary, will be played Saturday night in Portland.
Meanwhile, Vernon’s Curtis Lazar supplied 1+2 as the Edmonton Oil Kings used five unanswered third-period goals in a 6-3 win Wednesday over the Kootenay Ice before 2,293 fans at the Cranbrook Rec Complex.
Lazar, a rookie who was named third star, leads the Oil Kings in playoff points with 3-4-7. He scored a powerplay goal in the first period to make it 1-1 and drew assists on goals by Keegan Lowe and Henrik Samuelsson (empty-netter).
The Oil Kings took a 3-0 series lead into play Thursday night in Cranbrook.
Elsewhere, former Vernon Viper head coach Mark Ferner and the Everett Silvertips are out of the playoffs. The Tri-City Americans completed a sweep of the Tips with a 4-3 OT victory Wednesday in front of 2,385 fans at the Comcast Arena.
Former Vernon minor hockey product Ryan Harrison scored once for Everett before taking a charging major midway through the third period. Vernon’s Zach McPhee also played for the Tips.