With their backs squarely up against the wall, the Chilliwack Bruins came up with a truly inspired performance on home ice Tuesday night, downing the Tri-City Americans 5-1 at Prospera Centre.
Trailing their first round playoff series 2-0 and desperately needing a win, the Bruins got two goals from Howse and a spectacular 48 save performance from Lucas Gore. In the process, they negated the possibility of a Tri-City sweep and showed they can beat the U-S division powerhouse when it counts.
Chilliwack’s power play was the difference in the opening frame, striking twice to stake the Bruins to a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes of play.
The Bruins opened the scoring on Kevin Sundher’s first career playoff goal. Chilliwack captain Brandon Manning started the play at the point, passing the puck to Dylen McKinlay on the left-wing boards. The Langley native threw a hard pass to Sundher at the right goal post, and the Surrey native tapped the puck in to a wide-open cage at 6:10.
Credit Matt Delahey for drawing the penalty that led to Chilliwack’s second goal. A multi-player fracas broke out in the Chilliwack goal crease and the 20-year-old suckered Patrick Holland into dropping his mitts. Delahey kept his cool, and kept his gloves on while Holland’s eagerness cost him an extra two for roughing.
On the ensuing power play, Manning fed a beautiful pass from the right point to Roman Horak at the left faceoff dot. The Czech threw a pass across to Ryan Howse, who had nothing but net to shoot at for his second of the series. At 18:43 of the first, the Bruins led 2-0.
Lucas Gore made some stellar saves in the opening frame, none bigger than his stop on Brooks Macek three minutes in. Macek split the defensive duo of Zach Habscheid and Tyler Stahl and had a clear-cut breakaway from the blueline in. But Gore challenged well and made the stop as Macek went five-hole.
Shots on goal in period one were 14-10 in favour of Tri-City.
Owsley, so good in games one and two, looked awfully bad on the third Chilliwack goal, scored 58 seconds into the second period. With a delayed penalty coming up to the Americans, McKinlay skated into the Tri-City zone and fired a wrist shot from the very, very, very high slot. Owsley misplayed the shot and could only watch helplessly as the puck hit the lip of his glove and arced into the net.
Owsley looked even worse on the fourth Chilliwack goal. The Lethbridge native went behind his net to play a dump-in, and handed the puck to McKinlay. McKinlay got the puck to Jamie Crooks in front. Crooks had a pair of whacks at the puck, and got the puck across the goal-line on his second attempt, scoring his first career playoff goal while lying flat on his stomach.
That ended Owsley’s night. After giving up four goals on 12 shots, he was yanked by head coach Jim Hiller, and replaced by Russian stopper Alexander Pechurskiy.
Shots on goal in the second period ended up 13-9 in favour of the Americans, who skated into the third period facing a massive deficit against a team that has been very good at protecting late leads. The Bruins have only coughed up three leads this season when ahead through 40 minutes.
The Bruins penalty kill was put to the test early in the third period. First, Chilliwack killed off a two-minute tripping minor to Jesse Craige. Moments after he stepped out of the box, Jamie Crooks was banished to the sin bin for tripping. But the penalty killers came up big. After being ventilated for a team-record six power play goals against in an 8-1 loss Saturday night, the Bruins PK was almost perfect on Tuesday, killing off eight of nine Tri-City power plays.
Howse scored the final Bruins goal at the 8:08 mark of the third. The Prince George native out-raced Eric Mestery down the left wing and beat Pechurskiy glove side from the top of the left faceoff circle.
Tri-City got their lone goal from Brendan Shinnimin, who scored a power play goal with 8:33 remaining to break up Gore’s shutout bid. Gore put the exclamation mark on the victory with one final outstanding save, flopping backwards with his paddle to take a sure goal away from Johnny Lazo.
The series continues tonight at 7 p.m. at Prospera Centre.
– Three stars were Lucas Gore (first), Ryan Howse (second) and Colton Grant (third).
– Tri-City forward Neal Prokop left the game on a stretcher just 1:02 with an apparent leg injury. The 19-year-old went in hard on the forecheck and slid awkwardly into the end boards in the right corner. The game was delayed for 10 minutes as medical staff assessed the situation and got him off the ice.
– Tri-City head coach Jim Hiller continues to have trouble winning at Prospera Centre. The former Chilliwack Bruins bench boss is 0-3 in visits to the Valley, and 3-4 overall against his former team.