The Chilliwack Bruins stood toe-to-toe with the Tri-City Americans for 55 minutes Friday night. But the Americans scored three goals in 86 seconds early in the third period to take a 4-2 win in game one of the best-of-seven first round playoff series.
Coming into the series as massive underdogs, the inexperienced Bruins knew task number one was to prevent the Americans from jumping out to an early start. If Chilliwack had any playoff jitters, they didn’t show in the opening frame, with the upstarts playing like a veteran squad. Tri-City out-shot the locals 15-11, but it was the Bruins leading 1-0 through 20 minutes of play.
Seventeen-year-old Dylen McKinlay pulled the trigger, scoring his first Western Hockey League goal at 11:45. A two minute tripping minor had Johnny Lazo watching from the penalty box as McKinlay beat Tri-City netminder Drew Owsley. Assists went to point-men Brandon Manning and Jesse Craige.
A key component of Chilliwack’s strategy in this series is to wear down the skilled but small Tri-City forwards. Though it’s never been a prominent part of his game, Ryan Howse led the way for his crew early in the second period. On one exceptional shift, the 18-year-old crunched Neal Prokop along the left wing boards, and then stepped into Jarrett Toll with a solid check.
The intensity was ratcheted up a notch in period two, and the Bruins responded well. Play was even through 10 minutes, but Chilliwack came on strong in the back half of period two. Owsley was forced to make several big stops in the Tri-City net, none bigger than his save off a Roman Horak bullet, followed by another stop on the rebound.
Lucas Gore was exceptionally sharp at the other end.
His biggest save of the period came off veteran defenceman Eric Mestery, who was left uncovered to wire a shot from 15 feet out. The Bruins goaltender flashed the leather, making a huge glove save to maintain Chilliwack`s one-goal lead. The Americans thought they`d tied the game moments later when the puck entered the Chilliwack net off a goal-mouth scramble. But video review showed that the net was off its moorings before the puck crossed the goal-line.
Gore committed a nice bit of larceny in the opening minute of the third period, stopping Americans defenceman Brooks Macek, who found himself in alone on the Chilliwack net. But Gore was left largely to his own devices as Tri-City scored three goals in 1:26 to take a 3-1 lead.
Kruise Reddick got things rolling at 3:31, with Macek drawing the primary assist. Reddick took a perfect feed from Macek and had a wide open net to shoot at for his seventh career playoff goal.
Thirty-seven seconds later, an unlucky bounce gave Tri-City a 2-1 lead.
Gore made an outstanding initial save off a point shot by Johnny Lazo. But the rebound took an unfortunate bounce off Bruins blueliner Jeff Einhorn, rolling across the goal-line as the capacity crowd at the Toyota Centre collectively leapt to its feet. Neal Prokop scored at 5:07, forcing Chilliwack coach Marc Habscheid to call a timeout to get his young team settled down.
The timeout didn`t do the trick.
Sergei Drozd scored off his own rebound at 7:34 to five the Americans a 4-1 lead, effectively putting the game away.
If the Bruins had gotten a few more power plays in this game, they might have met with a better fate. Chilliwack went 2-2 with the man advantage and got a PP goal from Ryan Howse with 6:05 remaining to make the final 4-2. Alexander Wiklund and Jesse Craige drew the helpers.
Gore was pulled for an extra attacker with 2:28 to go, but the Americans weathered one final storm to record the win.
The two teams face off in the rematch Saturday night, 7 p.m. at the Toyota Centre in Kennewick, WA. The Bruins host games three and four Tuesday and Wednesday night at Prospera Centre.