WHL Playoffs: Bruins lose in OT

Lucas Gore of the Chilliwack Bruins watches as Johnny Lazo of the Tri City Americans moves in on goal during last night’s game at Prospera Centre.

Lesson to hockey fans who leave playoff games early.

Don’t.

With a minute remaining in Wednesday night’s game, the Bruins looked to be done like dinner, trailing the Tri-City Americans 3-1 in Game 4 of their first round playoff series. Fans who hadn’t already left the arena were flocking to the exits as Chilliwack head coach Marc Habscheid pulled his goalie for the extra attacker.

But the Bruins forged a miraculous comeback on last-minute goals by Brandon Manning and Kevin Sundher, and had the Americans on the ropes in overtime. If life were a storybook, Chilliwack would have completed the fairy-tale in OT, but Kruise Reddick’s goal with 4:51 remaining in the first overtime session gave Tri-City a 4-3 win. Give the Bruins points for trying, but they head into Game 5 down 3-1 and facing elimination in this best of seven series.

The Americans had their trademark forecheck going in period one, and it paid off at 8:35 when a Bruins defender bobbled the puck away in his own zone. Before you could say uh oh, Tri-City turned the turnover into a goal, with Patrick Holland shovelling a backhand shot past Lucas Gore for his first career post-season tally.

The Americans also had their transition game working to perfection in the opening frame. Just 34 seconds after Holland’s goal, Tri-City’s Johnny Lazo nabbed a puck in the neutral zone and led a two-on-one with Brendan Shinnimin. Brandon Manning was the lone Bruin back as Lazo fed a perfect saucer pass to Shinnimin. Gore had no chance as the 18-year-old rifled the puck into the yawning cage for his sixth of the series.

The best Chilliwack chance came early when Kevin Sundher led a two-on-one rush with linemate Dylen McKinlay. Sundher played it perfectly, his cross-ice pass hitting McKinlay in stride. But the Langley native lifted his shot inches over the cross-bar.

Shots on goal in the first period were 14-7 in favour of Tri-City.

The second period was boring. The Bruins spent almost the entire time bottled up in their own zone, to the point where the Zamboni really didn’t need to clean the Tri-City zone after 40 minutes. The Ams put another eight shots on net, and Gore had to make a couple big stops to keep Chilliwack’s comeback hopes alive.

He came up with a pair of huge back to back saves on Lazo and Shinnimin with just over a minute remaining to give his team a fighting chance heading into the third period.

The Bruins showed some signs of life in the opening minutes of the final frame, and got the all important next goal at the 3:12 mark. Kevin Sundher was in the mix again, leading a three-on-two with Manning and Ryan Howse. Howse took Sundher’s cross-ice pass and launched a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. It’s a shot that Tri-City netminder Drew Owsley would want back, going over his shoulder and dropping across the goal-line to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Referees Matt Kirk and Colby Smith didn’t help the comeback attempt with their whistle-in-the-pocket officiating. Through two periods, the Bruins had just one power play opportunity, and it was just over a minute long. Tri-City’s lethal power play only had three chances in the entire game, but the appeared to put the game away midway through the period with a clutch Brooks Macek goal.

Roman Horak was in the box for elbowing as Shinnimin started the play with a pass to Adam Hughesman, who was parked to the left of the Chilliwack net. Hughesman wheeled 180 degrees with a backhand pass to Macek. The Winnipeg native had a wide open net to shoot at, burying his first of the series to restore Tri-City’s two-goal lead.

Prospera Centre sounded like a morgue.

But Chilliwack head coach Marc Habscheid pulled Gore from the Chilliwack net with over a minute and a half remaining, and the gambit paid off big time. First, a Brandon Manning point shot found the net through a screen with 22.1 seconds remaining. Then, with 11.3 seconds left, a Jarrett Toll giveaway behind the Tri-City net led to Sundher’s miracle tally, scored off a frantic goalmouth scramble as he jammed the puck past Owsley.

The teams went back and forth in overtime. Gore came up with a game saver with 7:51 remaining, absolutely robbing Shinnimim from 10 feet out. But with less than five minutes remaining in the first overtime period, Kruise Reddick came up with a shot that Gore couldn’t stop, wiring one from 25 feet out that beat the Chilliwack keeper through a maze of players.

The series resumes Friday night in Kennwick, WA.

– Three stars were Kruise Reddick (first), Matt Delahey (second) and Brendan Shinnimin (third).