Kelowna 2 Calgary 0
KELOWNA, B.C. — The Kelowna Rockets are one victory away from claiming the Western Hockey League championship and finishing an amazing four-game sweep of the Calgary Hitmen.
Mark Guggenberger made 21 saves for Kelowna, and Cody Almond sealed the win by scoring into an empty net, as the Rockets defeated the visiting Hitmen 2-0 Monday in Game 3 of the league championship series.
The Rockets now lead the best-of-seven series 3-0, with Game 4 set for Wednesday night in Kelowna.
Ryley Grantham also scored for the Rockets, which held a 1-0 lead late in the first period, then survived intense Hitmen pressure for most of the third.
Almond closed out the scoring with 5.7 seconds left with a slow-rolling backhand from centre ice into an empty net.
Martin Jones made 22 saves for Calgary, which entered the playoffs with the league’s best regular-season record and won 16 straight playoff games en route to the WHL final.
Guggenberger recorded his third post-season shutout in his first playoffs as a starting goaltender.
The Rockets were without leading scorer and left winger Jamie Benn, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Kelowna’s 5-2 victory in Game 2 on Saturday.
After shooting at Calgary’s net along the goal-line midway through the first period, Benn was levelled by Hitmen defenceman Keith Seabrook and was knocked out of the game.
It’s believed he suffered a concussion or a neck injury after falling hard into the endboards, then onto the ice without his helmet.
In the game’s opening minute, Seabrook touched the puck four times, and each time he was heartily jeered by the standing-room only crowd of 6,329.
And when Rockets forward Evan Bloodoff hit him into Calgary’s end boards at 55 seconds, a loud cheer ensued.
Seabrook, however, ignored the jeers and had a good game for the Hitmen, though the Rockets seemed to target the six-foot rearguard from Delta, B.C. And with three minutes left, Almond laid a hard hit on Seabrook near Kelowna’s blue-line, hard enough to knock off Seabrook’s helmet. Seabrook seemed dazed, but skated off to Calgary’s bench.
Kelowna opened the scoring late in the first period when Grantham converted a rebound off a Mitchell Callahan shot at 15:15.
Grantham began the play by leading a three-on-two rush down the right side, where the tried firing a snap shot on net, but had it blocked by a sliding Paul Postma.
The puck popped out to Calgary’s blue-line, where Callahan quickly put a shot on net.
Jones made the save but couldn’t corral the rebound, and Grantham rushed in to slide his fourth of the playoffs under Calgary’s netminder.
Almond closed out the scoring in the final minute following a scrum along Calgary’s endboards that popped out to the neutral zone.
From just beyond the centre line, Almond lofted home a soft shot that brought the crowd to its feet as it slowly rolled into Calgary’s goal.