After two games that the Kelowna Rockets would likely want to forget, they returned home for a pivotal Game 3 Tuesday night. Unfortunately, despite it being their best effort of the second round of the 2024 WHL Playoffs, the Rockets were pushed to the brink of elimination ahead of game 4.

Starting Strong

The message sent by Head Coach Kris Mallette after Games 1 and 2 was simple and blunt. Get the puck on net. In the second game of the series, the Rockets recorded only nineteen shots. In the first period of game 3, the team blasted off eighteen. Cougars netminder Joshua Ravensbergen survived the period and held his own well into the second frame. He would go on to break the Prince George Cougars franchise record for shutout length, reaching 158 minutes without allowing a goal.

Soon, the Rockets finally began to see results. After struggling to get one past Ravensbergen, Kelowna Rocket eighteen-year-old forward Ethan Neutens found paydirt. He ripped a one-timer short side on the netminder to tie the contest.

Neutens had a very promising game, winning crucial faceoffs and anticipating the play well throughout the evening. Following Kelowna’s first tally, Michael Cicek would then double it up for the Rockets. He beat Ravensbergen just 50 seconds after Neutens, firing it home in a similar spot: short side, top corner. The frame would conclude even at 2-2, setting the stage for a significant third period.

Continuing the Push

As time wound down in the hockey game, tied at 2, the game faced a major turning point. Netminder Jari Kykkanen went behind his cage to play a puck. Amidst a miscommunication and heavy pressure, the puck was turned over. Veteran forward Borya Valis fired it home to give the Cougars a 3-2 lead late. Prospera Place was the quietest it had been all evening. All signs pointed to Prince George taking a commanding 3-0 series lead.

Pressure mounted on the Kelowna Rockets’ veteran forward group, which led to playing with immense desperation down the final stretch of the game. Andrew Cristall was paired with Tij Iginla and Gabriel Szturc on a line, something new. This provided the Rockets with a late-game offensive spark they much needed. Cristall delivered a pass to Szturc, who shelved it to tie the game at 3. Time expired in period 3, and the game went to overtime. The Rockets were pushed to the brink of elimination.

Just 1:22 into overtime, Cougar forward Matteo Danis netted his first WHL playoff goal to seal the deal. Now facing a 3-0 deficit, the hill will be even harder to climb for the Rockets.

What’s Next

Game 4 (Prospera Place, Kelowna, BC – 7:05 PST) will determine the fate of the Kelowna Rockets season. Prince George has only lost two consecutive games twice in all 74 games they have played thus far. The Kelowna Rockets will have to do the unthinkable: complete reverse sweep to advance to the Western Conference Final.