BELLINGHAM - Crisp passes, hard shots and clean checks: If a hockey team can do all three of those it has a good chance of winning.
The Bellingham Blazers excelled in all those aspects and exerted its dominance over the Tri-Cities Outlaws for the second night in a row. The Blazers, who took 68 shots in the game, cruised to a 7-3 victory Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Bellingham Sportsplex in the first round of the NPHL Cascade Cup Playoffs to increase its best-of-five series lead to 2-0.
"We are doing real good right now," Blazers forward Bailey Shaver said. "We have set our lines and we all know where each other are at."
It started quickly for Bellingham. Only 14 seconds into the game, Boris Knyazev picked up a loose puck in front of the net and put it in. Micky Turner was the skater who opened up the opportunity, as he forced Outlaws goaltender Stephen Hunter to block a shot, leaving the net wide open.
Three minutes later, Kristjan Toivola managed to get a puck in the net as he sent it across the slot, putting the Blazers up 2-0.
The Blazers lost their discipline in the middle of the period, as Nick Scherbinin and Kacey Walker took penalties, forcing Bellingham into a two-man shorthanded situation.
There were no worries for the Blazers with goalie Austin Sabin on the ice. With just seconds left in the Outlaws' power play, Sabin dove to the ice and blocked a potential goal.
Knyazev closed out the period with his second goal of the night. He got in tight and lifted the puck over the stick side of the Outlaws goaltender to make it 3-0 with 41.3 seconds left in the first.
Shaver extended the lead to four when he put in a pass from Cody Rich with 15:32 left in the second. Rich skated in from the wing and pushed the puck past the goalie's semi-circle to find Shaver.
Shaver found the net again less than three minutes later when Toivola found him from behind the net. The goaltender was unable to slide over quick enough making it an easy goal for the forward.
"I felt pretty good," Shaver said. "I wanted to go in and bring some energy and I came away with some goals."
Energy is exactly what Shaver brought with a massive hit along the boards in front of the fans in the first period.
The five-goal difference was short-lived, as the Outlaws Sheldon O'Neill made it 5-1 with 10:35 remaining in the period.
The lack of discipline displayed in the first came back to bite the Blazers when back-to-back penalties from captain Mason Wade (tripping) and Turner (cross-checking) gave the Outlaws a lengthy five-on-three.
Tri-Cities capitalized only 15 seconds after the five-on-three started when Austin Mayton scored to make it 5-2.
"We got a little overconfident," Shaver said. "We try to do too much as individuals. We just have to focus on being team-first players."
The game slowed down in the third period, only 29 shots were taken by both sides. But the Blazers were clearly dominant, taking 20 of those.
With little more than 10 minutes remaining, Walker skated the puck in, passed it to Gerin Hohl, who left it for Wade. Wade buried the shot from the slot for the Blazers' sixth goal of the night.
A misplayed puck by Blazers goaltender Robert MacDonald, who made 22 saves on 25 shots, opened the door for the Outlaws, who narrowed the lead but with little hope of pulling an upset victory.
With seven seconds left, Knyazev scored his hat-trick goal to finalize the game at 7-3.
The Blazers are now one game away from advancing to the championship round. They play the Outlaws on Friday, Feb. 28, at Tri-Cities.
"That game is huge," Shaver said. "We want to go into the next round with some energy."