The Kelowna Rockets not only went home with the prize they came for Sunday night, they got it gift-wrapped.
The Rockets’ fifth goal of a 6-3 win over the Spokane Chiefs - their insurance goal, the one that may have ended Aren Miller’s career in Spokane - came in the worst way imaginable.
Eight minutes into the third period. Chiefs down a goal. A soft shot by Kelowna’s Jason Deleurme from just inside the blue line winds its way slowly goalward. With all kinds of time, with a clear view of the puck, with nobody around him, Miller, the goaltender, somehow gets only a piece of the puck with his stick.
The shot, moving very slowly, found its way through the goalie’s pads to put the Rockets up by two. Worse, it took a crowd of 5,421 and the emotion of 18 Spokane skaters out of the game. Thus, the Rockets earned an important split of their Friday-Sunday set in Spokane. They now have a three games to two lead in this Western Hockey League West Division quarterfinals heading into Tuesday night’s sixth game in Kelowna. David Haun, who replaced Miller after Deleurme’s back-breaker went in, will start in goal with the Chiefs one game away from elimination in this best-of-7 playoff.
Miller saw 16 shots. Five went in. Four probably weren’t his fault, but nobody will remember that. Should the Chiefs lose Tuesday night, they get an unexpected vacation until the Memorial Cup begins May 9.
What Miller’s role in that will be is open to question.
Asked if Miller would start Tuesday night, Babcock said, “Not a chance.”
You had to feel for Babcock -whose team dominated for two and a half periods - and for Miller, who holds club career records for minutes played and wins. He came off the ice at 8:14 of the third period to scattered boos.
“You win as a team and you lose as a team, but we’ve got to give somebody else an opportunity,” Babcock said. “Who in the building didn’t think we dominated?”
Brett McLean had three goals and an assist to overcome a huge Chiefs shot advantage, 38-21.
Rookie Brandin Cote kept the Chiefs close all the way, logging a pair of goals in the first period and assisting on the third, a Marian Cisar goal with 2:31 left in the second period that pulled the Chiefs into a tie at 3.
The Rockets scored three unanswered goals in the third period, the last into an empty net after the Chiefs pulled their goaltender to insert an extra attacker.
“This hurts a lot,” Cisar said. “Maybe the most.”
Cote gave Spokane a 1-0 lead that lasted 48 seconds, until McLean hit the inside of the left pipe, had the puck bounce off Miller and slide over the goal line.
Kelowna’s Scott Parker scored twice on re-directs. Each time, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound target was left alone. Kelowna stuffed all six Chiefs power plays.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Coming up Tuesday:Spokane plays at Kelowna, 7:30 p.m.