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Junior hockey: Rockets fall to Chiefs in OT

One week ago, the Kelowna Rockets were eyeing a playoff series with the Victoria Royals.

Today, they’re looking at a scenario of not making the playoffs.

In the WHL, the top eight teams in both the Western and Eastern Conferences make the playoffs. In the West, seven of those eight spots have been spoken for. The only open spot is for third place in B.C. Division standings.

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Kelowna, with 62 points, is currently third. But fourth-place Kamloops, with 61 points, is right behind.

Here’s how the playoffs work.

In previous years, the old format featured a top-versus-bottom format, with 1st vs 8th, 2nd vs. 7th, 3rd vs. 6th and 4th vs. 5th schedule. But for some time now, it’s been a hybrid version featuring division rivalries.

Division winners are seeded first and second in conference standings according to their points. Currently, Vancouver (1st in B.C.) has 98 points while Everett (1st in U.S.) is second with 96. The top two teams play wildcard teams in the first round, but more on that later.

Here’s the hybrid part, the section that focuses on division rivalries.

In division standings, the second-place team will play the third-place team. If the playoffs were to start today, Victoria (2nd B.C., 70 pts.) would play Kelowna (3rd B.C., 62 pts.) and Portland (2nd U.S., 86 pts.) would play Spokane (3rd U.S., 83 pts.).

With six guaranteed playoff positions, the remaining two spots – wildcard teams — are based on regular-season records, regardless of division.

In Western Conference wildcard standings, Tri-City (4th U.S., 74 pts.) and Seattle (5th U.S., 66 pts.) have locked up the two wildcard berths. Kelowna (62 pts.) and Kamloops (61 pts.) have just two games remaining and, points-wise, can’t catch Seattle.

So, really, the Rockets and Blazers are racing each other for the lone remaining playoff berth. The winner will play Victoria with the loser having its season come to an end.

While Kelowna has a one-point lead, the Rockets are in tough.

Kelowna will end its season with back-to-back games against the best team in the Western Conference — Vancouver. The Giants have dominated the season series against the Rockets with a record of 6-0-0-1. Put another way, Vancouver has earned 13 of a possible 14 points against Kelowna.

Kelowna’s lone win against Vancouver this season was a 4-3 shootout win on Jan. 27.

Meanwhile, Kamloops closes out its regular-season schedule with back-to-back games against the worst team in the Western Conference — Prince George (5th B.C., 44 pts.). The Blazers are 6-0-0-1 against the Cougars.

For Kelowna, it comes down to this: Needing upsets against Vancouver while hoping Prince George upsets Kamloops.

On Wednesday night, the Rockets had a chance to give themselves some breathing room, but came up short in a 6-5 overtime loss to Spokane.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan, with two goals, including the winner 34 seconds into OT, Jack Finley, Luke Toporowski, Ethan McIndoe and Nolan Reid scored for Spokane, which led 3-1 and 4-1 at the period breaks.

Nolan Foote, with two goals, Michael Farren, Kaedan Korczak and Kyle Topping replied for Kelowna, which rallied in the last half of the third period with three goals. Topping scored on a 6-on-4 power play with just 40 seconds remaining to tie the game at 5-5.

“That comeback is definitely a positive going into Friday,” said Foote. “There’s no rest off for anyone, we need to move on. We need everyone because it’s a big weekend and we’re very tight with Kamloops. Our veteran players have to step up continue that.”

Bailey Brkin stopped 32 of 37 shots for Spokane. For Kelowna, Roman Basran started but gave up three goals on six shots in 17:26. James Porter came in, going 16-for-19 in relief.

The Chiefs were 0-for-1 on the power play while the Rockets were 1-for-3. The attendance was 4,935.

Also Wednesday, Kamloops crushed Victoria 8-0. Brodi Stuart had a goal and four assists for the Blazers, who have won four straight games.

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