Chilliwack assured themselves of at least a .500 road trip with a 3-2 win over the Prince Albert Raiders Wednesday night, improving to 3-1 on their six-game trek through Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Rookie netminder Braden Gamble stole the win for the Bruins, stopping 39 of 41 shots as his road-weary teammates struggled to find their skating legs.
Roman Horak scored a pair of goals to lead the offence as Chilliwack officially clinched a Western conference playoff spot.
Harrison Ruopp learned a valuable lesson 6:36 into the first period of this one. If you’re going to turn the puck over in front of your own net, don’t give it to Ryan Howse. Ruopp bobbled the puck away in the slot, and Chilliwack’s goal-scoring leader quickly capitalized, faking a shot to get Raiders netminder Jamie Tucker on the ice before roofing a wrister.
Prince Albert drew even at 15:36 on a goal by Justin Maylan. In the seconds before his goal, Gamble made several spectacular stops, including a highlight reel glove save on Craig McCallum. But he couldn’t stop them all, and McCallum sniped his 14th of the season, going upstairs with his shot.
As McCallum’s goal was being announced in the building, Chilliwack went ahead on Horak’s first of the game. Cutting to the net, the Czech speedster’s shot deflected off a Raider stick, going up and over Wright for his 17th of the season. His goal came just 32 seconds after Maylan’s strike.
Shots on goal in period one were 14-5 in favour of the Raiders, who deserved a better fate.
Prince Albert fans could only look on with envy as their own goaltender did his best impression of a sieve. Horak chased the ex-Vancouver Giant from the net at 4:16 of the middle frame, scoring on a breakaway to put Chilliwack up 3-1. Tucker gave up three goals on 11 shots, giving way to 20-year-old veteran Garrett Zemlak.
Gamble continued his outstanding play at the other end. In one 20 second sequence, he robbed Maylan on a breakaway, and then had a Stefan Warg shot ring off the iron behind him.
The game took a physical turn 9:14 into the middle frame when Chilliwack defenceman Matt Delahey delivered a crushing check on Belarussian forward Igor Revenko. As Revenko struggled to the bench, Ryan Button jumped Delahey, earning an extra two-minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct.
Howse came within an inch of cashing in on the ensuing power play, rifling a shot that hit the cross-bar and stayed out. The Raiders came right back down the ice, and cut the lead to 3-2 on a goal by Jonathan Parker, who scored his 14th of the season on a broken play at 11:32.
Shots on goal in period two evened out a bit at 14-10 in favour of Prince Albert.
The Bruins have been money in the bank this season when leading after 40 minutes of play, going 20-0-0-1. Their lead-protecting ability was put to the test early in the final frame when penalty troubles forced them to kill off a short five-on-three power play.
The PK was up to the test, and the Bruins almost notched a short-handed goal. Ryan Howse stole the puck in the neutral zone and darted in on a breakaway. But the Prince George native got in too tight to make a good shot, and the Raiders dodged the bullet.
Prince Albert thought they had the game tied midway through the final frame, but video review took the goal away, showing that a Raider shot had hit the post behind Gamble and stayed out.
Gamble’s finally bit of thievery came with 2:05 remaining when he came up with a big stop on Andrew Herle. Zemlak was pulled with less than a minute remaining, but the Raiders could not equalize.
With the win, Chilliwack improved to 29-29-1-5, leap-frogging the Kelowna Rockets for sixth place in the Western conference. Their road trip continues Friday when the Bruins visit a daunting Wheat Kings (42-18-1-3) squad in Brandon. The trip wraps up Saturday night in Moose Jaw against the Warriors (29-24-4-4).
– Bruins goaltender Lucas Gore got some good news Wednesday when he was named the CHL goalie of the week for the week ending Feb. 21. Gore made two starts and earned two shutouts, blanking the Seattle Thunderbirds 1-0 and the Swift Current Broncos 3-0. The 19-year-old Kamloops native is second in the Western Hockey League with five goose-eggs this season.