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T-Birds top Blazers in overtime to tie Western Conference final

Nico Myatovic’s head was still spinning while trying to describe the feeling of scoring an overtime winner in the Western Hockey League playoffs.

Nico Myatovic’s head was still spinning while trying to describe the feeling of scoring an overtime winner in the Western Hockey League playoffs.

“I mean, I don’t know, I blacked out most of the time, but it felt unreal and just felt good to help contribute to the team,” said Myatovic, the 6-foot-2 Seattle Thunderbirds' forward from Prince George.

Seattle, the more desperate team, edged the Kamloops Blazers 2-1 in overtime on Wednesday in Kent, Wash., to tie the best-of-seven Western Conference final at two games apiece.

Game 5 is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. on Friday at Sandman Centre.

“That’s huge,” said T-Birds’ captain Tyrel Bauer, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound defenceman from Cochrane, Alta. “We’ve got lots of character in that room. We’re missing a few key guys in our lineup. Important game at home. It just shows the resiliency and character in that room. Couldn’t be happier.”

Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette expressed displeasure with his club’s start in Game 3 on Tuesday in Kent during post-game interviews and noted spotting the opposition three goals is not a recipe for success.

Understanding the gravity of defeat, the Thunderbirds knew they had to start on time on Wednesday — and they did.

And so did Kamloops goaltender Dylan Garand, who kept the game scoreless while Seattle registered the game’s first seven shots. The Victoria product saved his best for Reid Schaefer.

The T-Birds’ forward, who had points in seven straight games heading into Game 4, tested the New York Rangers’ prospect’s glove and Garand was equal to the task.

“Both goaltenders were excellent,” Blazers’ head coach Shaun Clouston said. “I think their game was a little bit better than the night before and our game wasn’t quite as good. That’s kind of the difference. It was close.”

Seattle goaltender Thomas Milic earned first-star honours with his 35-save performance, while Garand, the game’s third star, stopped 37 shots in defeat.

Kamloops netted the opening goal for the 13th time in 14 post-season contests, a Daylan Kuefler marker at 19:06 that pushed the Blazers’ power play to 5-for-13 in the series.

The Thunderbirds’ penalty kill held the rest of the way. The Blazers finished 1-for-4 on the man advantage.

Seattle had one power play and it clicked 1:55 into the second period, thanks to the capable mitts of NHL Draft prospect Jordan Gustafson, who rounded a reaching Kamloops defender and shot high to solve Garand.

“It was a nice play by [Lucas] Ciona to get the puck to me,” Gustafson said. “They’re not going to go away. We’re not going to go away. It’s definitely going to be long. It’s definitely getting a little bit more chippy.”

Gustafson’s gem was the only goal of the second stanza, which ended with the teams jawing at each other and Seattle fans making sure the Blazers were acutely aware of their feelings.

“It’s the conference final,” said Bauer, who was asked about the increasingly feisty nature of the series. “It’s win or go home. We expected a battle. We love the battle and we’re going to keep doing it. When it gets chippy, we stand in there and hold our ground.”

With 14:50 to play in the third period, officials were heckled when they waved off a Thunderbirds’ marker, deeming Ciona to have interfered with Garand before the puck crossed the goal line.

“You suck! You suck!” was the chant, set to the theme music of former WWE superstar Kurt Angle.

Officials might have been wondering if the Olympic gold medallist wrestler Angle was available for bodyguard duties when they waved off another T-Birds’ goal, this time for a hand pass.

“Ref, you suck! Ref, you suck!” squawked the T-Birds’ faithful.

“We’ve got a resilient group,” O’Dette said. “Lots of character. There is lots of ups and downs and a roller coaster of emotions. You have to do the best you can at staying focused. We are an emotional group, but we did that, for the most part.”

Seattle was without the services of NHL prospects Lukas Svejkovsky (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Henrik Rybinski (Washington Capitals), both of whom were scratches on Wednesday.

Any update on their status for Game 5?

“We’re constantly reassessing them,” O’Dette said. “We’ll see what happens.”

There was very little room on the ice in the third period, a scrappy 20 minutes that featured the exchanging of pleasantries and pushing and shoving after most whistles.

“There is a lot at stake,” O’Dette said. “We’re not from the same division, so we don’t have a ton of familiarity, but that’s starting to obviously increase. With that comes maybe some feistiness. It’s just good playoff hockey.”

Seattle pushed for a late winner, but Garand was proficient and the third period concluded with the game knotted at 1-1.

Ciona, who had the first assist on Gustafson’s marker, dug a puck loose and found Myatovic, whose goal at 11:16 of the first overtime period sent ShoWare Center into a frenzy.

Kamloops fell one goal shy of heading home with a chance to finish the series on Friday at Sandman Centre.

“I don’t know if I’d call it frustrating,” Blazers’ defenceman Quinn Schmiemann said. “We’ve done a better job of sticking to the process. At points earlier in the year, we’d get a lot more frustrated. We’ve got to stick to the process and things will eventually go our way.”

OUT EAST

The Edmonton Oil Kings lead the Winnipeg Ice 3-1 in the Eastern Conference final.

Edmonton doubled visiting Winnipeg 4-2 on Wednesday.

Game 5 is scheduled for Friday in Edmonton.