The backs against the wall version of the 2018/19 Kamloops Blazers are the best version: setting a new season high for goals in an 8-0 beatdown of the shorthanded Victoria Royals tonight (March 13).
"There's definitely a desperation in our play as of now," says goalie Dylan Garand. "We realize that every point is huge and we can't afford to lose a game. Obviously it's different at the end of the season. At the start, if you lose your season's not over but now if we lose our season could be done. I think that's huge for our mindset. I think we've taken that into account and put some desperation in our play and it's working really well for us."
That desperation will need to continue after the Spokane Chiefs blew a three-goal lead in the third period to the Kelowna Rockets, eventually winning 6-5 in overtime. The result means Kamloops is still one point back of Kelowna heading into the final two games of the season. But the way they're playing, if this team does sneak in the playoffs, they'll be a tough out.
The Blazers didn't start the game quite as strong as last night, but a five-goal second period salted things away. Kamloops took advantage of an overmatched Brock Gould in net for the Royals, pouncing on big rebounds and consistently beating him low. The Blazers fired 36 shots on net and finished the night 2 of 4 on the power play.
It is 8-0 Blazers. That is not a typo. Ryley Appelt with the latest. #Kamloops— Kamloops Matters (@KamloopsMatters) March 14, 2019
Brodi Stuart led the way, opening the scoring and finishing the night with five points. Josh Pillar added a goal and three assists, Jermaine Loewen had a goal and two helpers, Zane Franklin scored twice to bring his season total to 28 and Connor Zary, Kyrell Sopotyk and Ryley Appelt each found the back of the net as well.
Garand posted his first WHL shutout, turning away all 22 shots he faced. Forced into the starting role after an injury to Dylan Ferguson, Garand has backstopped the Blazers to four straight wins, allowing just three goals while posting a .971 save percentage.
"He was big when he needed to," says head coach Serge Lajoie. "Sometimes it might not be a lot, but we counted nine scoring chances that they had in the second period – they actually out-chanced us – so I thought he was very, very good. He's so calm, he's very confident and he just allows us to live through some mistakes and not have referee zone breakouts but defensive zone breakouts when he's able to make a good save."
Dylan Garand gets his 1st career shutout 😍😍😍😍😍— Kamloops Blazers (@blazerhockey) March 14, 2019
8-0. 💥 pic.twitter.com/Q2UBlKrLNN
If all goes right, Kamloops will see the Royals in the first round of the playoffs, albeit a stronger version of this team. Victoria rested a handful of players, including their top three scorers (Kaid Oliver, Scott Walford and Kody MacDonald) and starting goalie Griffen Outhouse.
On paper, the Blazers have the easier weekend ahead, playing a home-and-home against the last place team in the Western Conference, Prince George.
"We've always approached it one day at a time. I know its a cliche but whether its a practice or a game, we always want to make sure we're professional, we're businesslike and we come with a workman-like attitude and I thought that we had that again tonight," says Lajoie. "It's going to be the same kind of approach against Prince George. We can't look past any opponent and I would hunch that our guys don't look past Prince George. Our big objective is to make the playoffs and they're just another opponent that's standing in our way."
Meanwhile, the Rockets have a home-and-home with the West's top team, the Vancouver Giants. With the Everett Silvertips still nipping at their heels, the Giants will need positive results this weekend if they want to lock up the top spot in the conference.
The Blazers host the Cougars on Friday night in their final home game of the regular season. Puck drop is 7 p.m.