KELOWNA, B.C. - It's been four years since the Kelowna Rockets last hoisted a banner. On Monday night, the Rockets added a new one: Western Conference champions.
Mikael Backlund scored a hat trick for Kelowna, including the game-winning goal in overtime, as the Rockets rallied to defeat the Vancouver Giants 5-4 in Western Hockey League playoff action on Monday night.
With the win, Kelowna claimed its first Western Conference championship since 2005, and third in franchise history, winning the best-of-seven series 4-2.
Kelowna will now meet the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL final. That series is tentatively scheduled to start in Calgary with Games 1 and 2 this Friday and Saturday at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Backlund's game-winning goal came four minutes into overtime, as he deflected a shot from Tysen Dowzak at the left blue-line boards. Dowzak's shot went off Backlund's raised arm, then deflected past Giants goaltender Tysen Sexsmith. The Giants called for an immediate review, a process which took approximately five minutes before it was called a goal.
Evander Kane, with two goals, Jon Blum and James Henry scored for Vancouver, which raced out to leads of 1-0 and 3-1 before the first period was over.
Jamie Benn and Cody Almond, with goals 33 seconds apart late in the third, also scored for Kelowna.
Mark Guggenberger made 13 saves for the Rockets, while Tyson Sexsmith stopped 27 shots for the Giants. On Sunday, Vancouver listed Sexsmith as a possible scratch, saying he wasn't 100 per cent and might be sick with the flu.
After Kelowna narrowly missed scoring in the opening 30 seconds, with a shot rolling through Vancouver's crease, Blum scored the game's first goal at 4:11, knifing home a high power-play slapshot from the blue-line.
Backlund levelled the score six minutes later, going between Sexsmith's pads after dangling in the slot. The Giants, however, regained their lead, then added to it before the frame ended, with Kane wristing in a rebound on the power play at 16:27, then Henry going high glove side on a breakaway at 18:58 to make it 3-1.
In the second, Backlund drew Kelowna to within one at 17:19 with a highlight-reel goal. With the Rockets on the power play, Backlund dragged the puck across the Giants' blue-line, cut through two defenders, then, while falling, loosed a hard, top-shelf shot just before a third Giant came in to help defend.
In the third, the Rockets lost top defenceman Tyler Myers for boarding when he crushed Giants defenceman Craig Schira into Vancouver's end boards. Schira was cut on the hit and Myers was hit for a major and a game misconduct. Ten seconds into their five-minute power play, Kane banged in a rebound to make it 4-2 Giants.
But in the dying minutes, the Rockets rallied and began throwing waves of offence at Vancouver, and, at 15:55, Benn made it 4-3 with a power-play goal. Then, at 16:28, Almond made it 4-3 with a screened wrister from the slot to force overtime.