BELLINGHAM - The Bellingham Blazers appear unbeatable.
They won their last 21 regular season games and then made a big statement by opening the NPHL Cascade Cup playoffs with a 9-1 win over the Tri-Cities Outlaws on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Bellingham Sportsplex.
"(A statement) is exactly what it was," captain Mason Wade said. "We set the tempo and the rest of the league will hear about it and see that we're in it to win it."
The Blazers dominated from the start, controlling the puck for minutes at a time and peppering Outlaws goaltender Colby Bennett with 30 shots on goal in the first period.
The win puts the Blazers ahead 1-0 in the best-of-five, first-round series heading into the Wednesday night, Feb. 26, game, which will also be held at the Sportsplex.
Bellingham got on the board with 9:45 remaining in the first period when NPHL Most Valuable Defensive Player Scott Hansen fired a shot from the point, which rebounded off Bennett. Wade was there to clean up the garbage and slid the puck into the net.
Twenty seconds later, Hansen got in on the action again. The defender fired a pass up the ice to a wide-open Luke Wagner, who calmly found the goal to put the Blazers up 2-0.
It was no surprise to see Hansen so active offensively. Hansen was second among all defensemen in points this season.
The Blazers' first period wasn't over yet, as NPHL Most Valuable Offensive Player Cody Rich slid a cross-ice pass to a cutting Gerin Hohl, who put it past Bennett, giving the Blazers a 3-0 lead with 5:55 left in the first.
Bellingham picked up right where it left off in the second period. Just 12 seconds in to the period, Sasha Perron made the lead 4-0.
The Blazers pushed their lead to five with 10:54 left in the second when Dawson Quint pushed the puck into the open net after Bennett deflected a shot from Jack Speer.
The Outlaws almost got on the board seconds later, but Robert MacDonald made a breakaway save by sliding his pads down to the ice.
Bellingham used the save as a push-off point for its fifth goal of the game. Wade scored his second goal of the night on a follow-up after a saved shot by Walker with 8:56 remaining in the second.
The game got very chippy after that, both teams trying to send a message for the rest of the series. Wade took a slashing penalty 22 seconds after his goal and three minutes later the Blazers' Chad Haywood was sent to the box for a trip.
"If they are hitting dirty, you just have to take their number and hit them later," Wade said. "You can't take retaliatory penalties."
After some hard hits, the Blazers struck again with 2:21 left when Walker scored his first goal of the season. His goal was arguably the most impressive of the night, as he struck from downtown and rung the crossbar, before the puck slammed the back of the net. Walker, who earned first-star honors for his goal, only played in three games this season but was on the first defensive pairing alongside Hansen Tuesday night.
The third period was one of hope for the Outlaws, as they scored a goal, won a fight and even had a fan win the 50/50 raffle.
Any momentum gained from the feisty play in the final period, however, was lost when Perron scored his second goal of the night late in the third to secure the 9-1 victory. The Blazers outshot the Outlaws 79-12.
The Blazers are back in action on Wednesday with a 1-0 lead in the series and a good feeling about their play.
"We have been winning all year, but now we're really feeling good," Wade said. "We're playing good, the chemistry is there and we're really gelling."