For the second straight year, the Oil Kings were just too tough to handle.
Drawing the Eastern Conference’s top team again this WHL post-season, the Kootenay Ice fell in five games after losing 4-1 to their hosts in Rexall Place on Friday night in Edmonton.
Edmonton advances into the second round, where they will face the Medicine Hat Tigers—a team that swept the Memorial Cup hosts in the Saskatoon Blades in four games.
Despite the score, it was a close contest till the final period, as Edmonton only led by one goal with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
The Oil Kings led by one goal after the first period, but the Ice put on the pressure in the middle frame and managed to tie it up.
“It looked like we were a little tentative and we needed to not feel our way through the game,” said Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “We just needed to get more effort.”
The Ice turned it up in the middle frame, but the Oil Kings pulled ahead just after the halfway mark. Edmonton scored an insurance goal with 3:08 remaining in the game and also notched an empty netter for a 4-1 final.
Kootenay went on the powerplay early, after Sam Reinhart got mixed up with Keegan Lowe, dragging Travis Ewanyk into it, who drew the extra minor.
The Ice’s power play was dangerous the whole night, but didn’t find the back of the net, as Edmonton maintained their 100 per cent penalty kill all series.
“We were more effective, we moved the puck better, we gave them a different look,” said McGill. “We had one breakaway on the powerplay late in the third period, so not much more we can do, other than score.”
Luke Bertolucci struck first in the latter half of the period, walking out from the sideboards and roofing a shot on the short side of Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski.
The game opened up in the second period, as Kootenay began playing with a sense of urgency and desperation. The team was rewarded nearly three minutes in, when Jakub Prochazka redirected a cross-ice pass from Jaedon Descheneau past Oil Kings goaltender Laurent Brossoit.
Kootenay poured on the pressure, as Collin Shirley had a chance right in front of the net, while Sam Reinhart had a quality scoring opportunity in the slot, but Brossoit came up huge for the Edmonton squad.
The game remained knotted for nine minutes, but the Oil Kings pulled ahead when Curtis Lazar used his speed to get behind the Ice defence, and roofed a backhander over Skapski’s glove after getting a feed from Dylan Wruck.
Kootenay had a glorious chance to draw even on an odd man rush shortly after, but Jordyn Boyd’s shot went just wide of a gaping net. Reinhart also had a partial breakaway, but couldn’t settle the puck to get a decent shot on net.
“I thought we played real good in the second period,” said McGill. “I thought we generated lots of scoring chances, and we just didn’t bury our chances, but that has to come through second and third efforts.”
More Kootenay pressure came in the third period, but the momentum halted when Ice defenceman Jagger Dirk was whistled for a hit from behind on Mitch Moroz. The Ice rearguard was slapped with a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the play.
A man short for five minutes, the Ice penalty kill went to work, and came up huge, denying Edmonton on every single opportunity during their powerplay.
“It was real big, because we generated offence off it, and we generated offence after it,” said McGill, “but once again, we didn’t bury our opportunities when we got our powerplay.”
Brossoit bailed out his team with the save of the game late in the contest, when he kicked out a pad to stop a shot from Luke Philp, who came in all alone when the Ice had the man-advantage.
However, the Oil Kings added the insurance marker with three minutes remaining after Stephane Legault picked up a rebound on Skapski and stuffed it in.
Lazar notched the empty netter a minute later to crush any hope for the Ice.
Skapski ended the game with 32 saves, while Brossoit turned away 24 shots for the Oil Kings.