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Kuefler eats slap shot, gets stitches, returns in same period to score in Kamloops Blazers' playoff victory; Toporowski celebration 'not very classy'

Hughes on Toporowski: "I expected better from him as a person."

Daylan Kuefler could have been maimed, concussed and transported to Royal Inland Hospital after he dove face first into a slap shot on Saturday at Sandman Centre.

Instead, after swift outpatient care, he took permanent residency in Kamloops Blazers’ folklore.

“When I was getting stitched up, I told the doctor I was going to go out there and the next time he saw me, I was going to have a goal,” said Kuefler, whose blood was scraped from the ice while he made his way to the dressing room.

The left-shot forward from Stettler, Alta., made good on his pledge, missing only a few shifts in the second period before returning to the ice in time to put the Blazers up 2-0 on the Spokane Chiefs in Game 2 of their Western Conference quarter-final series.

“It was a huge lift,” Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston said. “He’s a warrior. He’s a heart and soul guy. The guys love him.

“You’re worried when you see him block a shot with his face. A few minutes later, he comes out and scores a goal. It was very inspiring.”

The Blazers won 6-2 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which became bitter on Saturday and felt entirely like post-season hockey.

Spokane, eager to rebound from a 9-0 drubbing on Friday in Game 1, started well and seemed likely to notch the opening goal, but was unable to foil New York Rangers’ prospect Dylan Garand in the first period.

“I liked the game a lot more than last night,” said Chiefs’ interim head coach Ryan Smith, whose club was outshout 37-23. “At the end of the day, it’s still a loss. We took some selfish penalties tonight. We took 10 penalties. You can’t do that.”

Luke Toporowski, who was traded to Kamloops from Spokane in January, put the home team up 1-0 with a power-play marker at 17:11 of the opening frame.

Kamloops finished 2-for-10 on the power play, which looked disjointed and listless for most of the night. 

“I’m not overly concerned,” Clouston said. “We’ve got some time to regroup. It looked a little bit flat, at times.”

Spokane was 1-for-10 on the power play on the penalty-filled night.

Kuefler’s goal was one of two pivotal events that took place in the second period.

Spokane’s starting netminder Mason Beaupit, an NHL Draft prospect, suffered an apparent right leg injury that forced him out of the game.

He was replaced by backup Cooper Michaluk, who turned 17 in January and allowed five goals on 15 shots on Saturday.

Smith opted not to update Beaupit’s injury status after the game.

“If we can win on Monday, we give ourselves a chance on home ice,” Smith said. “We like our crowd. We like our fans. We’ve got to win one here, eventually, to win this series. The next chance is Monday.”

Fraser Minten scored shorthanded early in the third period and Connor Levis tipped in a Mats Lindgren shot to give Kamloops a 4-0 cushion, a lead that seemed safe at the time.

But Graham Sward scored on the power play at 9:37 of the third period to end Garand’s playoff shutout streak, which ran 109 minutes and 37 seconds, and Nick McCarry got another one back for the Chiefs less than two minutes later.

“We gave them a little stuff in their face, a little pushback from last game, but penalties hurt us, for sure,” said McCarry, who was shipped to Spokane in the Toporowski deal.

Careless indiscipline stamped out the Chiefs’ momentum.

Toporowski scored his second goal of the contest and fourth of the post-season while Kamloops was on a 5-on-3 power play. He was assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for his celebration, which took place in front of the Spokane bench.

The Chiefs’ captain, Bear Hughes, took issue with the celebration and jawed at his friend and former teammate while Toporowski skated to the penalty box.

“I’ve known Topper for almost four years now, playing together and we’re the same birth year,” Hughes told KTW. “We got to be pretty good friends. I like to think what happens on the ice stays on the ice, but I think he took a couple dirty shots tonight, in my opinion, and coming by our bench, making faces at us … We all know him on a personal level. I just think that’s not very classy. I expected better from him as a person. That’s what kind of player he is. He tries to get in the other team’s head and that’s what he strives off of, so it is what it is.”

Matthew Seminoff rounded out the scoring at 14:47 of the third period, his second goal of the post-season.

Tempers boiled over with 32 seconds remaining on the clock.

Among the combatants was Blazers’ forward Drew Englot, who struck an official in the head during the rumble.

“Obviously, there was no intention,” said Englot, who was assessed a match penalty. “The guy hit me in the face. My hand just came up to protect myself and came down and hit him in the face. Obviously, it’s an accident, right? You don’t mean to, but stuff happens.”

Clouston was asked about the incident.

“There was a lot of commotion,” he said. “It was very chaotic. He had his gloves on and I think he was just looking to pop the player back. There was pushing and shoving and face washing. If he did hit the ref, it was on accident. There was no intent. That will get reviewed and the league will make a decision [on further discipline].”

The Blazers will host Game 3 on Monday, a 7 p.m. start at Sandman Centre, before the series shifts to Spokane for Game 4 on Friday April 29.

Games 5 and 6, if necessary, will be held in Spokane on Saturday, April 30, and Monday, May 2, respectively.

Hughes lamented indiscipline and said the only way his Chiefs can get back into the series is by shutting down the Blazers’ top players.

“Monday night has to be ours,” Hughes said. “We have to think about it that way.”