In a very exciting game seven of the Thunderbirds' first round of playoffs, Riku Helenius was named the game's number one star stopping 31 of 33 shots before 3,077 fans at Key Arena to lead Seattle to a 4-2 win.
This was a game where special teams and the goaltending of Riku Helenius was the difference between the closely matched teams of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets. The Rockets went 0 for 8 on the powerplay, including a minute and 44 second 5 on 3 and a four minute high sticking call. The birds also netted a short handed goal in this contest. Riku was very good when he had to be and Torrie Jung did not play for the Rockets. The Thunderbirds will now take on the Tri City Americans beginning Friday night.
Game 7: (5) Kelowna Rockets 2 @ (4) Seattle Thunderbirds 4
Seattle wins Best of 7 series 4-3
G Torrie Jung, KEL:
Game: Did not play
Series: 1 GP, 0-0, 3.82 GAA, .850 sv%
G Riku Helenius, SEA:
Game: Win, 31 saves on 33 shots, *First Star*
Series: 6 GP, 3-3, 2.65 GAA, .903 sv%
Whatâ€™s Next for Jung: Torrie Jung had an up-and-down year that was â€œhighlightedâ€ by a constant fight for playing time. Just when Jung seemed to secure the No.1 goaltender spot from overager Kristofer Westblom, it seemed like heâ€™d endure some bad luck and/or a losing streak. Barring unforeseen circumstances, a No.1 fight wonâ€™t be happening next year in Kelowna. Jung has put in his time for two years and next year the Rocketâ€™s playoff hopes will be clearly on his shoulders. It will be interesting to see how Jung prepares for this new role this summer through offseason workouts and pre-season preparation. How he performs as a No.1 next year will determine his professional future. The Rockets were the second youngest team in the WHL this year and will return the leagueâ€™s runner up for top scorer and Californian, Colin Long (100 points), as well as likely top-5 pick, defenseman Luke Schenn, who was reportedly impressive in the Seattle series. They will be one of the preseason league favorites and how Jung plays will go a long way to determining their 2008-2009 success.
*Chad contributed to this report. (And thanks to BP Guest Writer Ffan23 for the first-hand game report.)
Crowley, a defenseman, was coming off a year in which he scored 10 goals and 29 points in 66 games for Everett of the WHL. Prior to last year Crowley scored 17 points in 29 games with the 'Tips after being acquired from Swift Current at the 2007 WHL trade deadline.
Any potential NHL contract between Tampa Bay and the WHL overager this summer was thought to be dependent on reasonable contract demands from the Crowley camp. It appears this is already off to a bad start, if indeed there is anywhere to go from here.
It is unknown at this time whether the contract in question was an AHL amateur tryout agreement or an NHL entry deal.
Crowley was a sixth round pick of the Bolts in 2006.
QMJHL FIRST ROUND - EASTERN DIVISION
Game 6: (5) Lewiston MAINEiacs 1 @ (4) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 2 (OT)
Cape Breton wins Best of 7 series 4-2
D Michael Ward, LEW:
Game: 0-1-1, +1, 5 min. major for charging + game misconduct
Series: 5 GP, 0-3-3, +3, 13 PIM (Plus a game misconduct. Was suspended for Game 1)
Lewiston will not repeat as QMJHL champions as the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles overcame a 1-0 third period deficit to force overtime, then winger Murdock MacLellan scored just his fifth goal of the year at 9:46 of the extra session to clinch the series for CB. According to the Lewiston Sun-Journal, Ward stepped into a check at the right point with 2:15 to play in the second period and leveled CBâ€™s Chris Culligan. Ward was kicked out and Culligan received a minor for roughing after the fact.
Whatâ€™s Next for Ward: After a slow start to the season offensively, Ward came on over the second half and followed that up with 3 points in 5 playoff games. The 6-3, 200 pound defenseman also displayed more of a mean streak in the final month. Primarily a defensive-defenseman, Ward could break out statistically next season in the Q much the same way Paul Ranger did for Oshawa of the OHL a season after his draft year. Ward could be a two-way minute-eater for Lewiston next year and top 35 points and 100 PIM.
Atlanta dealt a blow in their own quest for Steve Stamkos.
Mike Smith allowed just 1 goal on 23 shots for the loss. Can I just say, "Case in point?" After seeing Karri Ramo go 2-0-1 including a sterling effort against the division leading Canes, Smith got well quickly to play the Thrashers tonight and with only a smidge of goal support he would've won. That's what having two young lions competing for the starting job will do for the Lightning. You won't get that if Smith isn't being pushed because he has a sad sack retread as a backup.
19:40 of even hockey for Matt Smaby with 1 shot on goal and 3 hits. The fact Matt has been even with over 18 minutes of IT in both of these one goal nailbiters only helps his resume going into next season in pursuit of an NHL job. And I'll pose the question again: if Smaby finishes out the year continuing to garner 5-6 minutes more IT than Mike Lundin, does that mean he's passed Lundin on the depth chart? When I heard Coach Tortorella's comments about Ramo and Lundin, I obviously was strongly against sending Ramo down to the minors next season. However, if Lundin doesn't hit the weight room hard this offseason and get the upper body strength he desperately needs, Coach might have a legitimate point about the young blueliner.
WHL FIRST ROUND - EASTERN CONFERENCE
Game 6: (6) Brandon Wheat Kings 0 @ (3) Lethbridge Hurricanes 4
Lethbridge wins Best of 7 series 4-2
C Mitch Fadden, LET:
Game: 0-1-1, E, 2 PIM (hooking)
Series: 6 GP, 2-6-8, -2, 4 PIM (plus 10 min misconduct)
Fadden and Lethbridge finally put Brandon away after letting the Wheaties back into the series 3-2. Lethbridge scored twice in the first period Sunday, then added two early third period goals to cement the series win and end their two-game losing streak. This is the first series win for Lethbridge since 1997. Theyâ€™ve been 0-6 in first round match-ups since that year.
Fadden finished the series with 8 points, which is one better than the 7 he posted last year (2-5-7) in one playoff round (6 games) for the â€˜Canes.
Because of No.2 Reginaâ€™s upset loss to Swift Current, Lethbridge is the second-highest seed remaining in the Eastern Conference. They will play Kootenay in the Conference Semi-Finals. Kootenay, the 5 seed, defeated Medicine Hat 4 games to 1. Lethbridge was 1-5 vs. Kootenay this year, with their one win being a 7-1 shellacking February 12. That series will open Friday. No.1 Calgary, who defeated Moose Jaw 4-2, will host Swift Current.
In the West, the top seeded Tri-City Americans will await the winner of Tuesdayâ€™s Game 7 between Seattle and Kelowna. Vancouver will play Spokane in the other series. All 3 top seeds in the Western Conference swept their first round series.
WHL FIRST ROUND - WESTERN CONFERENCE
Game 6: (4) Seattle Thunderbirds 3 @ (5) Kelowna Rockets 4 (OT)
Best of 7 series tied 3-3
G Torrie Jung, KEL:
Game: Did not play
Series: 1 GP, 0-0, 3.82 GAA, .850 sv%
G Riku Helenius, SEA:
Game: Loss, 28 saves on 32 shots in 72 minutes
Series: 5 GP, 2-3, 2.69 GAA, .894 sv%
Kristofer Westblom was back in the Kelowna nets and the Rockets survived a late game-tying power play goal by Seattle and won the game in the first overtime to push the series to a deciding game. Lucas Bloodoff scored the winner in crease traffic when he backhanded a rebound of his own shot past Helenius. Game 7 will be Tuesday night in Seattle.
Chicago Steel 6 @ Ohio Junior Blue Jackets 7
W/C Luca Cunti, CHI: 0-1-1, -1, 2 PIM (delay of game), 1 shot on goal
Chicago has played Ohio three straight games and four of their last six. They play them one more time before seasonâ€™s end. Ohio will not make the playoffs.
Note: Kevin Wey of McKeen's Hockey, an old friend of the Bolt Prospects staff, recently published an interview he had with Luca. Wey addresses such issues as Cunti's struggles with the NCAA earlier this year, the NCAA's decision to forbid Cunti to play college hockey, Cunti's future, and which scorer he most admirers at the NHL level.
To read the interview, click here: McKeenâ€™s Hockey: Q & A With Luca Cunti
John Tortorella's trial balloon regarding sending The Kid down to the minors is in the process of being shot down, doused in gasoline, lit on fire, and then having the fire smothered by having it repeatedly run over by the Zamboni. Wow.
Karri Ramo set a career high in saves tonight stopping 38 of 39 shots in a sterling first star performance to raise his record to 7-10-3 in this rookie campaign. And he did it with style tonight too, chipping in a power play assist and flashing leather like Carl Crawford on the final play of the game to preserve the win. Anyone who wants to send this young man to the minors next season is smoking pine cones. He might already be better than Mike Smith, and in 4 years when he is the same age as Smith is now there's little doubt in my mind Ramo's going to be in a much higher rent district in terms of his career trajectory. He's the real deal. Again, the average 21 year old would've crumbled after losing in overtime to Washington the way he did. Ramo is teflon. It doesn't stick to him, and that's why he's damned near bust-proof as a prospect.
Matt Smaby played 18:42 in his first extended screen test for next season. The Lightning moved Smaby onto a pairing with Dan Boyle and he responded with an even rating and 2 hits. Other than a puckhandling gaffe in the second period which almost led to an Eric Staal ten bell scoring chance, he was error free and got a regular PK shift and was out on the ice to help kill the 6-on-4 at the end of the game. Very impressive. I wonder if Smaby is moving ahead of Mike Lundin on the depth chart. I have a feeling if he doesn't blow it, the coaching staff will be perfectly happy to leave him paired with Boyle, getting solid minutes, learning his craft, and gaining momentum heading into next season.
Jussi Jokinen hit 40 points for the season with a multi-point game tonight and Jeff Halpern continues to earn his place as the people's champion on this team, scoring his 19th of the season tonight. These two guys were nowhere statistically playing limited minutes in Dallas. They've exploded offensively since coming to Tampa.
I have been astonished at the work ethic of this Lightning club over the last month of the season. It would've been the easiest thing in the world for this team to lay down after the deadline deals that sent Richards and Prospal out of town. That hasn't happened. In fact, this team is working harder now than any Lightning team since the 2003-2004 Lightning team that bled the will out of Calgary in seven games. The saying is "The harder you work the luckier you get." If it's true, the Lightning's ping pong ball is coming up on April 20th, because they're working harder than 90% of the teams in the league right now, even though pride and jobs are all they have left to play for.
Ads storm out to a 4-0 lead and hold on for the win.
Ryan Munce stopped 35 of 38 shots faced for the win.
NOR Kearns, (6) (Mihalik, Segal), 2:42 (PP)
NOR Lawrence, (5) (Klinkhammer), 12:36
NOR Smolenak, (15) (Bates), 0:41
NOR Kearns, (7) (Schneider, Tyrell), 6:40 (PP)
MCH Purcell, (21) (Milam, Likens), 10:18 (PP)
MCH Cliche, (9) (Kidd, Tukonen), 18:09
MCH Meckler, (21) (Milam), 14:40 (PP)
Bracken Kearns, Jamie Bates, and Brandon Segal were named the game's three stars. Bates, 23, was signed to an ATO contract today out of Quinnipiac University. Bates scored 123 points in his 4 year career at Quinnipiac, including 34 points in 34 games this season.
Dana Tyrell has 3 assists now in his 5 ATO games with the Admirals. Not bad for a 19 year old.
Chris Lawrence's goal was his first since November 30, 2007. The linebackeresque forward now has 1 goal and 6 points in his last 8 games. Lawrence missed a month and a half in January and February with a shoulder injury.
Tonight's win was Norfolk's 26th of the season, two shy of Springfield's total from last season. The win gave the team their 58th and 59th points of the season, which ties the Falcons' point total from last season.
Box score from TheAHL.com.