If the regular season were to end today, it would be the Chilliwack Bruins and Tri-City Americans squaring off in round one of the Western Hockey League playoffs. And if the post-season were to mirror what has happened in the regular season, the Bruins would be just fine with that matchup.
Chilliwack has won three of the four meetings between the two clubs this year, including a 4-1 win Friday night at Prospera Centre in which the Bruins physically punished the speedy but small Americans from start to finish. Three different Bruins scored goals as Chilliwack hit the 30-win mark for the first time in franchise history.
The Bruins were out-shot 10-4 in the opening frame of this one, but took a 1-0 lead into the break thanks to a power play goal by Roman Horak.
Jamie Crooks drew a hooking call on Kruise Reddick to put the Americans one man down, and on the ensuing man advantage, Chilliwack blueliner Jesse Craige picked off a horrible up-the-middle clearing attempt and put a slap shot on net. The puck missed wide left but bounced off the end boards and back in front to Horak. With Tri-City keeper Alexander Pechurskiy flopping on the ice, the Czech put a backhander in for his 20th of the season.
The Bruins almost had another minutes later when defenceman Brandon Manning blew down the left wing and fed a cross-crease pass to Ryan Howse. The Prince George native one-timed a shot that Pechurskiy stopped, sprawling across with his left leg pad.
Lucas Gore made a couple fine stops at the other end. Zachary Yuen bulled down the side boards and set up Neal Prokop for a chance in front, but Gore dropped into the butterfly to thwart the veteran. Moments later, Adam Hughesman was left completely uncovered in the slot with an eternity to shoot, but Gore made a beautiful save with his right leg pad.
With just over two minutes remaining in the opening frame, Howse stepped around Brooks Macek at the Tri-City blueline and darted down the right wing. His cross-crease backhand pass to Horak seemed to deflect off Pechurskiy and dribble across the line.
The Bruins went to the locker room thinking they might have a 2-0 lead, but after going upstairs to the video review booth, referee Matt Kirk waived it off.
Chilliwack went up 2-0 anyways five minutes into period two on a goal by Jamie Crooks. The 17-year-old made a Tri-City defender look silly on a solo foray down the right wing, going wide around the blue, red and white pilon and cutting to the net. His first shot was stopped by Pechurskiy, but the Russian netminder left a rebound for Crooks to stuff home for his 20th of the season.
The Bruins added another late in the period on a pretty play between linemates Kevin Sundher and Dylen McKinlay. Flying down the right wing, McKinlay fed a pass ahead to Sundher as he made a bee-line for the net. McKinlay cut to the middle and was in the right spot for a return pass as Sundher wheeled 180 degrees and dished off the puck. McKinlay’s bullet caught the top shelf for his 19th of the season.
Two other moments were highlight worthy in the middle frame. Sundher knocked Pechurskiy’s helmet flying with a wrist shot, and 16-year-old Tim Traber dropped the Tri-City tough guy Tyler Schmidt in an even blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scrap that lasted all of five seconds.
Shots on goal in the second period were 9-8 in favour of the Americans.
With just one loss this season when leading after 40 minutes, the Bruins played another air-tight third period. Defensive coverage was solid, and when the Americans did get an opening, Gore was there to make the save.
Most of the time.
The 19-year-old Kamloops native stopped 31 shots, but a Johnny Lazo power play goal with 6:22 remaining eluded him, preventing the Chilliwack keeper from recording his sixth shutout of the season.
Colton Grant added an empty netter with just over one minute remaining to wrap up the scoring.
Gore and the Bruins return to action Sunday night at 5 p.m., hosting the Vancouver Giants at Prospera Centre.
– Three stars were Lucas Gore (first), Jamie Crooks (second) and Brendan Shinnimin (third).