PHOTO: Wenatchee Wild players Steven Arp, Sam Ward and Josh Fluker (L-R) leap into the glass in celebration after Wenatchee’s 5-4 Western Hockey League playoff win Friday over the Kelowna Rockets. The teams will meet in Game 6 of their best-of-seven series Sunday afternoon in Kelowna. (Photo courtesy: Russ Alman/Wenatchee Wild)

By Austin Draude,  Wenatchee Wild Media Relations

WENATCHEE, Wash. – The task Friday for the Wenatchee Wild was to win Game 5 and stay alive in their best-of-seven Western Hockey League playoff series against the Kelowna Rockets.

Now the task awaiting them is a must-win game Sunday afternoon at 2:05.

The Wild picked up a dramatic 5-4 overtime victory at Town Toyota Center, cutting the Kelowna lead in the series back to a three-games-to-two advantage, forcing a sixth game on the Rockets’ home ice this weekend. Kenta Isogai potted the earliest goal of the series, scoring at just 44 seconds of the opening period after a runaway wraparound attempt from Briley Wood. Michael Cicek tied the game on the power play with 8:01 left in the period, scoring on a rebound following a shot from Dylan Wightman.

Wenatchee regained the lead on the penalty kill with 6:19 left in the period, when Wood dropped a pass for Isogai at the right edge of the slot – Isogai’s shot beat Jari Kykkanen for the 2-1 lead, but Isogai was injured in a knee-on-knee collision with Kelowna’s Luke Schelter, who was ejected following the play. The one-goal lead remained through much of the second period, until Wood got on the scoreboard himself with a backdoor tap-in off a pass from Evan Friesen with 2:22 showing on the clock.

The scoring picked up halfway through the third period, when Andrew Cristall found Gabriel Szturc at the bottom of the right-wing faceoff circle for a one-timer, cutting the Wild lead to 3-2. Just over a minute later, Wenatchee picked up its second power play goal when Miles Cooper fed a pass to Friesen at mid-slot, who redirected it past Kykkanen to retake the two-goal lead.

A double-minor to the Wild in the final minutes would prove costly – Szturc sent home another one-timer from the right wing, this time from below the faceoff circle, making it a 4-3 game with 2:30 remaining. Tij Iginla wiped away the remaining gap with 47.6 seconds left, tossing home a point-blank chance at the edge of the net off a pass down the slot from Cristall. However, Steven Arp was the hero of the night, taking a faceoff win from Hayden Moore and whirling around to his forehand before wristing the winner past Kykkanen 54 seconds into the overtime period.

“A win’s a win, and we move on. That’s the focus right now,” said assistant coach Andrew Sarauer. “It was a wild game tonight – a lot of ups and downs, comebacks and fights. Give credit to our guys – they played a great hockey game for about 55 minutes, we just couldn’t bear down and close it in regulation. We went in the locker room, and it wasn’t pretty – a lot of guys were hanging their heads, thinking it was done, but we told the guys to lift their heads. We told them to put pucks on the net, it’s usually a weird goal, and (Steven) Arp put the puck on the net and it was in.”

Wood wrapped up the night with two goals and an assist, while Isogai notched Wenatchee’s first two goals of the game. Miles Cooper closed out the night with three assists, and the Wild enjoyed a 2-for-4 finish on the power play. Cristall had three assists for the Rockets, one of four Kelowna players with multiple points in a game that saw the visitors finish 4-for-11 on the power play. Hauser earned his 23rd career postseason win in WHL play, stopping 27 Kelowna shots, while Kykkanen took the loss for the Rockets with 26 saves.

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Sunday’s game will be a matinee in downtown Kelowna, with a 2:05 p.m. start at Prospera Place. Live coverage is available on Newsradio 560 KPQ/FM 101.7 and WHL Live starting at 1:50pm

The sixth game of the series will also be a must-win for the Wild, with a potential Game 7 scheduled for  6pm Tuesday night at Town Toyota Center.

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