The roller-coaster that has been the Kamloops Blazers' 2010-11 WHL regular season crashed and burned Friday night at Interior Savings Centre, shot down by the stick of Prince George Cougars centre Charles Inglis.
There were 5,088 witnesses as the Cougars beat the Blazers for the sixth straight time - this time the score was 3-2 in a shootout.
The result means the Blazers, for the second time in the franchise's 30-year history in Kamloops, won't appear in the playoffs.
The loss was the seventh in a row for the Blazers, who picked the worst possible time to go on their longest skid of the season. They will conclude their portion of the 72-game schedule tonight in Prince George.
The Blazers now have a 29-36-6 record and, with 64 points, find the Western Conference's eighth playoff spot out of reach. The Cougars (32-35-4) moved past the Everett Silvertips and into seventh place. A victory tonight would send the Cougars into a first-round matchup with the No. 2 Kelowna Rockets.
Last night, the Blazers erased an early 2-0 deficit to force overtime and the ensuing shootout, but not one of their seven shooters was able to beat goaltender Ty Rimmer.
That's right. The shootout went seven rounds and the Blazers' playoff lives were resting on every shot.
Inglis, the 14th shooter, was able to roof a shot from in tight on Kamloops goaltender Jeff Bosch.
And just like that - PFFFFT! - the air was out of the Blazers' playoff balloon. Many of the Blazers sat on their bench as though shocked by what had transpired. The Cougars, meanwhile, celebrated.
"It feels pretty good," said Inglis, a preseason acquisition from the Saskatoon Blades who has 60 points, including 32 goals, this season. "I had lots of confidence going in there."
Inglis, an 18-year-old Winnipegger, said he turned to head coach Dean Clark and said: "I'm going to score if you put me out there, so he did. I was lucky enough to have it go in."
It turns out this wasn't the first time Inglis had tried that tactic.
"The last time he said to me, 'I got this one,' " Clark said, "and he went out and missed."
Which is why Clark, who was fired as the Blazers' head coach early in the 2007-08 season, went through six shooters before turning to Inglis on this night.
"He used to coach here," Inglis said, "so this was huge for him. He was the happiest guy out there."
Clark chose to take the high road and not say anything about any personal satisfaction he might feel after eliminating the Blazers. But he was smiling when he offered up a "no comment."
Outside the Blazers' dressing room, Kamloops head coach Guy Charron was wondering about his club's energy level.
"Our effort was strong in the third period but in the first two periods we didn't play with the same energy," he said. "We allowed them to stay in the game and take the lead, build some momentum.
"I really didn't think we were going to come out flat. I thought we were going to come out with some energy and enthusiasm and take the play to them."
Right-winger Brett Connolly, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the sixth pick of the 2010 NHL draft, scored the game's first two goals, scoring on a big-league hesitation shot at 7:58 and then banging home a rebound on a power play just 30 seconds later.
"Connolly's first goal was a breakdown defensively when the coverage wasn't there," Charron said. "We addressed those things prior to the game, that with Connolly we've got to make sure he's not an impact on the game."
Connolly now has 70 points, including 45 goals, in 58 games.
Kamloops winger Bernhard Keil cut the deficit to one with a highlight-reel goal at 13:19 of the first period, dragging the puck around and past Rimmer while having only one hand on his stick.
The Cougars nursed that 2-1 lead into the third period, only to have Kamloops forward Thomas Frazee tie it with his 30th goal of the season at 2:06.
"We let off the gas a little bit," Inglis said, "and they stayed in it. We knew they were going to play hard throughout the whole game.
"They tied it up and almost scored a late one at the end there, but we came out with the victory and eliminated them from the playoffs."
JUST NOTES: Referees Jeff Ingram and Pat Smith gave the Blazers four of seven minors, with each team takig a fighting major. . . . Prince George was 1-for-4 on the power play; the Blazers were 0-for-3. . . . The Cougars had the lone PP of the last 25 minutes and Bosch, who played extremely well in what was his 23rd straight start, prevented a Prince George victory with a gigantic pad save on D Martin Marincin. . . . Bosch finished with 24 saves, three fewer than Rimmer. . . . Kamloops LW Brendan Ranford served the second game of a six-game WHL suspension for physical abuse of an on-ice official. He also will miss tonight's game and the first three games of next season. . . The Daily News' Three Stars: 1. Inglis - Finished the Blazers; 2. Bosch - Solid again; 3. Connolly - Fun to watch.
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