The Rockets and Blazers will play a tiebreaker game March 19 to see which teams advances to the WHL playoffs. Photo: Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets Images

Rockets to face Blazers in tiebreaker game for playoff berth

The March 19 tiebreak game will decide which of the two teams advances.

It’s life or death for the Kelowna Rockets season come March 19.

The Rockets notched two points in a 3-2 overtime win over the Vancouver Giants Saturday night. Kelowna’s Mark Liwiski scored the overtime winner to send the Rockets into a tiebreaker game with the Kamloops Blazers, where only the winning team will advance to the WHL playoffs.

It was the final regular season game for the Rockets, and after going winless in their previous four games, the Rockets needed to either out-pace or match Kamloops in the Blazers’ final game of the season against Prince George, in order to have a chance at the playoffs.

The Giants, who have already clinched a playoff berth and lead the B.C. division, gave the Rockets some help Saturday night by resting three of their best players in order to rest them for the playoffs. Even with some of their better players out, the Giants were still a tough match-up for the Rockets.

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The Giants took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal halfway through the first period, but the Rockets’ Cayde Augustine got a lucky bounce off a Giants skater with an innocent point shot that found the back of the net to tie it 1-1.

In the second period, after a good fore-check from Connor Bruggen-Cate, Alex Swetlikoff was able to give the Rockets a 2-1 lead in the second period. Swetlikoff made a strong move on a wraparound attempt and followed his rebound to roof it past Giants’ goalie David Tendeck.

“I felt like (Swetlikoff) was going to go, I was going to talk to him before the game, but I just gave him a tap,” coach Adam Foote said about Swetlikoff who had suffered almost 30 stitches in Friday nights game. “Some guys would be discouraged after (stitches), he’s just going to move forward, he’s been getting better and better every game.”

The Rockets played with desperation and pace in the second period , because after all, without the two points from a victory, they stood little chance of securing a playoff berth.

The Rockets would head into the final game of the regular season’s third period with a 2-1 lead over the Giants.

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The Rockets continued to press in the third period, and almost got away with a regulation win until the Giants tied it up with only 32 seconds remaining in the game to send the game to overtime.

Rockets coach Adam Foote knows it was a test for the team.

At around the same time the Rockets were heading into overtime against the best team in the B.C. division, the Kamloops Blazers were securing a win, as well as two crucial points, over the Prince George Cougars — meaning anything less than an overtime victory would mean the end to the Rockets season.

Liwiski made an amazing effort along side line-mate Swetlikoff in the dying minutes of the overtime and snapped a shot five-hole past Tendeck to ensure Kelowna’s playoff dreams did not end Saturday night.

Rockets’ goalie Roman Basran stopped 19 of 21 shots.

Kelowna’s playoff fate will be decided March 19 in Kamloops against the Blazers.

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