Reid Gardiner had four points to lead the Kelowna Rockets to a 7-2 win Wednesday in Portland. - Image: Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze

Rockets one win from conference final

Gardiner, Thurkauf and Merkley combine for 10 points Wednesday in win over Portland.

The Kelowna Rockets’ big line stepped up in a big way Wednesday night in Portland.

Reid Gardiner, Calvin Thurkauf and Nick Merkley combined for 10 points to catapult the Rockets to a 7-2 victory over the Winterhawks in Game 4 of the WHL’s Western Conference semifinal.

Now up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Rockets will look to book a spot in the Western Conference final when they host the ‘Hawks Friday night Game 5.

Gardiner, who leads the Rockets in playoff scoring with 14 points, scored twice and added a pair of assists. Thurkauf also scored twice and added an assist, while Merkley finished with a goal and two assists.

Merkley’s third of the postseason came on a penalty shot at 14:09 of the second period to put the Rockets up 4-1.

Thurkauf scored 28 seconds later, then added his fifth of the playoffs at 17:55 to make it 6-1, as the Rockets erupted for five second-period goals.

Gardiner, with his seventh and team-leading eighth goal of the playoffs, scored just over three minutes apart in the second period to put Kelowna up 3-0.

Carsen Twarynski opened the scoring at 1:48 of the first period with his third of the playoffs.

Captain Rodney Southam closed it out with a shorthanded marker late in the third, his first of the postseason

Michael Herringer stopped 35 shots in the Rockets net for his seventh win of the playoffs. Cole Kehler made 26 saves in the ‘Hawks net through two periods, before being replaced by Shane Farkas who made seven stops on eight shots in the third.

The Rockets will have a chance to close out the series when the teams meet Friday in Game 5 at Prospera Place. Face off is 7:05 p.m.

A sixth game, if needed, will go Sunday night in Portland.

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