Blazers pummel Giants

Playoff preview?

The Kamloops Blazers hope so.

If the WHL playoffs were to begin this evening, the Blazers and Vancouver Giants would be first-round protagonists. And all the Blazers did Friday night was spank the Giants 6-1 before 4,842 fans at Interior Savings Centre.

"Who's going to be our matchup?" asked Kamloops head coach Guy Charron. "Vancouver is a possibility. So it was important for us to play well."

The Blazers needed to win just to hold their position - seventh - in the Western Conference. They remain two points behind the Kelowna Rockets, who dropped the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds, 5-0, and two ahead of the Chilliwack Bruins, who were 4-1 victors over the visiting Tri-City Americans.

And win the home boys did. But it wasn't so much that they won - it was that they WON!

The Giants, who will finish atop the B.C. Division for a fifth straight season, came and built up a quick 6-0 edge in shots on goal.

But the Blazers scored on their fourth shot, at 5:48, and added two more goals before the end of the first period as they went on to a dominating victory.

"It was a good team effort," Charron said. "Our defencemen were good. (Goaltender Kurtis) Mucha was good. The defencemen stood up really well . . . that's how we have to play - we have to play in people's faces."

There was a lot of leather in faces in this one. In fact, the first two periods were chippy and physical and included a multi-fight situation at 11:53 of the first period.

Referees Jeff Ingram and Chris Savage let both teams exchange hacks, whacks and leather in the early going, only to have the feathers hit the fan after the Blazers' second goal.

With play in the Vancouver zone, Kamloops winger Ryan Hanes gloved a rebound in one hand, deked goaltender Mark Segal with a couple of moves that surely would have been traveling had this been an NBA game, then dropped the puck to the ice and tucked it into the open net.

"I faked left and then right . . . I was like a Michael Jordan out there," Hanes said with a laugh.

As Hanes skated into the corner to celebrate, former teammate Brett Lyon followed and short-circuited the party.

"I saw him coming after me," Hanes said, "so I popped him real quick . . . got in the first punch. He was just, like, 'I'm going to get you.' "

The officials dished out 98 minutes in penalties, including game misconducts to Vancouver defencemen Luke Fenske and Nolan Toigo and Kamloops forward JC Lipon and defenceman Tyler Hansen.

The Blazers rubbed salt in the wound less than six minutes later when defenceman Linden Saip rushed to the net and jammed a loose puck over the line.

Still, even though centre C.J. Stretch upped the Blazers' lead to 4-0 just 58 seconds into the second period, the Giants almost climbed back into it.

Trailing 4-1 after defenceman Neil Manning scored on the power-play at 3:16, forward James Henry came within inches of making it 4-2 on a wraparound stuff that Mucha denied. Moments later, Kamloops winger Brendan Ranford scored to give his side a 5-1 lead.

All that was left was for the 50-50 winner to claim the prize.

Kamloops centre Mark Hall rounded out the scoring at 6:03 with his fourth of the season - and third in three games.

"I get more excited when he scores than when I do," Hanes said of his linemate, who had gone 34 games without a goal before going el fuego.

Mucha finished with 29 saves and looked solid from the get-go. Vancouver opened with Mark Segal, sent in Derek Tendler at 2-0 and brought back Segal at 6-1. Tendler stopped 10 of 14, while Segal stopped 21 of 23.

"We always have to look for the playoff matchups," Hanes said. "We could be facing them so we wanted to send a message."

That message, you can rest assured, got through. And chances are the Giants will try to return the message on March 13 when the teams conclude the regular season in Vancouver.

Before then, the Blazers twice will entertain the Prince George Cougars - on Sunday, at 6 p.m., and Friday, at 7 p.m.

JUST NOTES: Vancouver was 1-for-5 on the PP; the Blazers were 0-for-3. . . . The Giants play in Kelowna tonight. It remains to be seen whether Vancouver head coach Don Hay will be behind the bench. He served a one-game suspension in January after his club was involved in its third line brawl this season. If the WHL rules that what occurred here was a multi-fight situation - and there were six fighting majors handed out - Hay almost certainly will be suspended again. . . . The Giants have been without F Lance Bouma (knee) since Feb. 13. They hope to have their captain back at some point during the first round of playoffs.

gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca

gdrinnan.blogspot.com

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