The Chilliwack Bruins stood toe-to-toe with an Eastern conference heavyweight Tuesday night, pushing the Saskatoon Blades to overtime and then a shootout before escaping with a 5-4 win.
The Bruins improved to 28-29-1-5, beating a powerful Saskatoon squad that came into the game tied with Calgary and Brandon for the top record (41-14-3-3) in the Western Hockey League.
Chilliwack drew first blood at 11:35 on a strike by Kevin Sundher. Saskatoon’s Sam Klassen handed the Bruins a power play with an ill-advised roughing minor, and with the man advantage, Alexander Wiklund spotted Sundher with a pretty cross-crease pass. Standing on the doorstep, the 17-year-old swatted the puck past Blades keeper Steven Stanford for his 24th of the season and a 1-0 lead.
Saskatoon took less than three minutes to answer on a goal by Finnish defenceman Jyri Niemi. With Tim Traber banished to the sin bin for hooking, the big defenceman with the cannon shot showed his finesse side, working a beautiful give-and-go with Gaelan Patterson.
With three of the good guys caught up ice, Niemi made a beeline for the net, took Patterson’s return pass and batted the puck past Chilliwack keeper Lucas Gore for his ninth of the season.
The Blades surged ahead 7:46 into period two on a goal by captain Derek Hulak. With Chilliwack’s Mitch Topping and Saskatoon’s Josh Nicholls serving twin roughing minors and the teams playing four on four, the Bruins had some trouble clearing their own zone. The puck ended up on the stick of ex-Prince George Cougar Marek Viedensky. He found Hulak with a perfect pass, and the 20-year-old snapped it past Gore for his 28th of the season.
Now it was Chilliwack’s turn for a quick reply. One minute and 16 seconds after Hulak’s tally, Colton Grant created some havoc on the forecheck. He created a turnover for linemate Shayne Neigum, who spotted defenceman Matt Delahey sneaking in from the point.
The ex-Regina Pat reeled in Neigum’s pass and wired the puck past Stanford for his fourth of the season, knotting the score at 2-2.
An ex-Chilliwack Bruin came back to haunt his former team when Randy McNaught gave the Blades a 3-2 lead late in period two. Brent Benson earned the primary assist with a hot shot that created a rebound for McNaught. The Nanaimo native, known more for fisticuffs than goal-scoring, had a tap-in for just his fifth of the season.
The see-saw battle continued just 49 seconds into the final frame when a Sam Klassen giveaway in the neutral zone resulted in a Colton Grant breakaway. The 20-year-old darted in at top speed and made a nice move on Stanford before firing the puck into the net for his fifth of the season.
Early in the third period, Neigum ignited a fracas with a clean bone-crushing check on Blades defenceman Tyler Kizuik. Neigum was immediately jumped by Saskatoon’s Duncan Siemens. That set off a number of little skirmishes, and once the dust settled, Neigum was inexplicably tossed from the game and the Bruins came out of the mess short-handed.
When Delahey’s roughing minor expired, he stepped out of the penalty box to lead a two-on-one rush with Ryan Howse. Delahey wisely fed Howse, who rifled his 40th of the year past Stanford to pass Oscar Moller (39 in 2007-08) for top spot on Chilliwack’s single-season goal-scoring list.
With 9:38 remaining in the game, a Mitch Topping turnover along the boards resulted in a quick Saskatoon goal to once again tie the game. Walker Wintoneak took the puck away from topping and put the puck in front for Inglis, who snapped it past Gore for his 18th.
The Bruins had a couple power play opportunities late in the third period, but came up empty on both. The game ended up in overtime, where an ex-Blade almost had the final word. Red-hot Jamie Crooks, who was acquired earlier this season in exchange for McNaught, thought he had the winner 1:33 into overtime. But a lengthy video review showed his shot didn’t sneak across the line.
And so, the teams ended up in a shootout. Jeremy Boyer and Viedensky were thwarted by Gore, while Howse and Jesse Craige both beat Stanford, giving the Bruins the last word in an extremely entertaining game.
Chilliwack continues their six-game road trip tomorrow night when they visit the Prince Albert Raiders. Puck drop is 5 p.m. PST.