The Kamloops Blazers' march to the WHL playoffs continues this weekend and when the clock strikes midnight on Saturday they may know who will be their first-round opponent.
Then again, maybe not.
The Blazers, with four games remaining, are three points behind the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets, who hold one game in hand.
The Rockets will play at Interior Savings Centre Friday, 7 p.m., with the Blazers in Kelowna on Saturday night.
The Blazers are 6-2-0 against the Rockets this season; however, two of the games have needed extra time, so the Rockets can say they are 2-4-2. Since Jan. 10, the date of the WHL's trade deadline, the Blazers are 4-0-0 against Kelowna - one of the victories was in OT - with a 16-8 edge on the scoreboard.
The Blazers will conclude their 72-game schedule next weekend, playing host to the Prince George Cougars on March 15 and then traveling north for a game the following night.
The Rockets, meanwhile, play the visiting Cougars on Thursday, and then finish up with a home-and-home set with the Vancouver Giants.
What it all means is that even if the Blazers win out, they will need some help to finish ahead of Kelowna.
But no matter how it all shakes out, the Blazers are feeling awfully good about their game right now. They go into tonight's game having won four in a row; they also have posted two straight shutouts, both on home ice - 3-0 over the Rockets on Sunday and 6-0 over the Victoria Royals on Tuesday.
"We know that we have a team that has the ability to score goals," Kamloops head coach Guy Charron said after beating Victoria. "In the playoffs, you need to be able to shut teams down and I think we've done that."
Charron has been especially pleased with the way his guys are dealing with the opposition in front of goaltender Cole Cheveldave.
"We aren't giving a lot of scoring chances," Charron explained. "We're not leaving a lot of shots. To me that's the ingredients you need to be successful in the playoffs."
Cheveldave, who now has 10 career shutouts, including six this season, loves what he's seeing as he guards the net.
"We're playing really well," the sophomore said. "We're playing well in our d-zone. We're coming back and picking up pucks in the slot. We're backchecking hard. Everybody's collapsing to the house (the area in front of the net) and playing great d-zone hockey and then putting the puck in their net. So that's good."
Cheveldave is one shutout shy of the single-season franchise record set by Dustin Butler (2006-07). Devan Dubnyk (2004-05, 2003-04) and Corey Hirsch (1991-92) also put up six in one season.
Right-winger Kale Kessy, who had two goals and two assists against Victoria, said it's all part of preparing for the playoffs, which will begin here on March 22.
"We're definitely getting there," winger Kale Kessy offered, "but at the same time playoffs are a whole new season. A lot more energy . . . a lot more excitement in the room. We're getting to that point.
"All the guys are excited to come to the rink every day. We are definitely looking forward to playoffs but we can't look past these next four games."
JUST NOTES:F Joe Kornelsen, who has missed two games with an undisclosed injury, may return tonight. "He's improving every day," Charron said. . . . However, F Matt Needham, who now has missed nine games, won't play this weekend. Charron is hopeful that Needham will be back for the two games against Prince George next weekend. . . . Charron has 142 regular-season coaching victories with the Blazers, two fewer than Don Hay, who trails only Ken Hitchcock (291) in franchise history. . . . Former Blazers captain Chase Schaber has signed with the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads. Schaber, 22, is expected to make his debut against the Gwinnett Gladiators tonight or Saturday in Boise. Schaber, who is from Red Deer, had 18 points in 19 games with the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns this season.
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