It wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but the Chilliwack Bruins did what they had to do Wednesday night, dispatching the Prince George Cougars 7-4 at the CN Centre in Prince George.
PG natives Ryan Howse and Brandon Manning led the offence as the Bruins swept both halves of a back-to-back set with the Cougars (11-55-1-2), who dropped their 15th straight game to slide further into the Western Hockey League basement. The Bruins improved to 32-32-1-5, drawing even with the idle Kamloops Blazers for seventh place in the Western conference standings.
The only goal of a bland first period belonged to the Bruins and came off the stick of 20-year-old veteran Colton Grant. Shayne Neigum pounced on a turnover in the Prince George zone and fed his linemate. Grant fired the puck top shelf for his seventh of the season.
That was the lone highlight in an opening frame that saw Chilliwack out-shoot the Cougars 9-4.
If ever there was a game needing a scrap to liven it up, this might have been it. Thankfully, Garrett Thiessen and Dylen McKinlay were up to the challenge. McKinlay dropped the mitts with the veteran Prince George defenceman and took the worst shot, a punch that had him covering his left eye as he left the ice.
Two minutes and 27 seconds after the scuffle, hometown hero Ryan Howse put the Bruins up by two. Matt Delahey earned the primary assist with a point shot that created a rebound for the Chilliwack sniper. Howse snapped the puck past Cougars keeper Hudson Stremmel for his 45th of the season, and his 12th goal in eight games against Prince George this season.
One minute and 17 seconds later, rookie Tim Traber pushed the lead to 3-0 with his third of the season. Playing in front of a small but vocal group of friends and family, the Quesnel native pounced on a puck in the left circle and caught the top corner with a quick slap-shot.
After that, the goals started coming fast and furious. PG got on the board at 12:21 when James Dobrowolski got the puck off a faceoff and snapped it five-hole on Braden Gamble for his 20th of the season. Brandon Manning restored Chilliwack’s three-goal lead just over two minutes later, taking a feed from Kevin Sundher on a three-on-two and notching his lucky 13th of the year.
But the Cougars scored twice in the waning minutes of the middle frame to climb back into the game.
Troy Bourke was in the right spot at the right time at 15:59 to swat home the rebound of an Alex Rodgers shot for his third of the season, and third in two games. It was a power play goal, scored with Chris Collins serving two minutes for high sticking. Then, with 59 seconds left in period two and the Cougars killing off an Orser slashing minor, Dobrowolski took a feed from Rodgers and deposited his 21st of the season behind Gamble.
Shots on goal in the second period were 9-7 in favour of Chilliwack, but the Cougars skated into period three thinking they had a chance.
Howse tempered those hopes just 68 seconds into the final frame, scoring his 46th of the year in odd-ball fashion. Coming in alone on a shorthanded breakaway, the 18-year-old over-skated and lost the puck. But with no PG defencemen in sight, He had time to retrieve the puck, evade Stremmel’s poke-check and snap the puck past the abandoned Cougar keeper.
Dobrowolski stuffed his third of the game past Gamble at 6:41, a goal that required video review confirmation. But the Bruins answered back 64 seconds later on a goal by Neigum. Dylen McKinlay was thwarted on a breakaway, but Colton Grant collected the rebound and threw it into the slot, where Neigum hammered it five-hole for his 11th of the season.
That was enough for the Bruins, who got an empty netter from Traber with 1:18 remaining to seal the deal.
Only two regular season games remain for the good guys, who are back on home ice Friday night at 7 p.m., hosting the Portland Winter Hawks. They’re in Everett on Saturday, visiting the Silvertips.