The Chilliwack Bruins have gone from the team everyone wanted to face to the team no one wants to face, all in the span of a week. The Bruins wrapped up a three-wins-in-three-nights weekend Sunday night, pulling off an improbable 6-2 upset over the mighty Portland Winter Hawks to nab their sixth win in seven outings.
Getting back to .500 for the first time since early January, the Bruins (30-30-2-3) solidified their hold on a playoff position and moved into sixth place in the wild Western conference, tied with Everett and three points clear of Kamloops and Prince George.
Captain Brandon Manning was at his best in the first period, scoring twice to stake his Bruins to a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes.
The 20-year-old broke the ice at 6:20, scoring on a Chilliwack power play. With six seconds left in a Brendan Leipsic interference minor, Manning took a cross-ice pass from point partner Tyler Stahl, launching a shot from the blueline.
With Jamie Crooks and Brandon Magee setting the screen, Portland keeper Keith Hamilton didn’t see the puck till it was in the net, with Manning recording his 18th of the year.
The Philadelphia Flyers prospect struck again five minutes later with another point-shot missile. Hamilton saw this one all the way and got a piece of it, but not enough to stop it from flopping over his left shoulder and into the net.
Everything looked great until the final minute of the period when Portland cut the Chilliwack lead in half.
With Tyler Stahl in the box for roughing, Leipsic camped in the blue paint and got his stick on a Derrick Pouliot point shot, deflecting it past Bruins netminder Lucas Gore for his 15th of the year.
Shots on goal in period one favoured Portland 16-8.
The good guys carried their strong play into the middle frame, and restored the two goal lead four minutes and 14 seconds in on a goal by T.C. Cratsenberg. Cratsenberg and his fourth-line mates, Mike Forsyth and Brendan Persley, did some great work deep in the Portland end. Cratsenberg camped his big frame in front of the Winter Hawk net and finished off a bang-bang feed from Forsyth for his fourth of the year.
But the explosive Portland offence had an answer.
With 6:22 remaining in period two, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Brad Ross bulled his way to the Chilliwack net, drawing Gore out of position. With no shooting option available, the hulking winger left a drop pass for New York Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter, who had an unguarded net to shoot at for his team-leading 36th of the year.
Shots on goal in period two favoured Portland 17-11.
The Bruins started period three on the power play, with Ross serving two minutes for interference. And again, it was Manning pulling the trigger on the man advantage. The captain hit the 20 goal mark with a wrister from the point, recording the first hat-trick by a defenceman in Chilliwack franchise history. The Prince George native closed to within two goals of Nick Holden’s single-season record for goals in a season by a blueliner.
Holden had 22 for Chilliwack during the 2007-08 season.
Money in the bank with third period leads this season, the Bruins were lethally efficient shutting down the Winter Hawks. Portland helped Chilliwack’s cause with a parade of third period penalties. The Bruins had six minutes of uninterrupted power play time, including a pair of short five-on-threes. While they didn’t cash in, they did succeed in taking a ton of time off the clock.
Portland’s best chance came on a Brad Ross breakaway. Gore made the stop on the Ross backhander, but was down and out as Ryan Johansen collected the rebound. Staring down a wide open net, the Columbus Blue Jackets first rounder rang his shot off the right goal post, leaving everyone in the building to wonder how he missed.
Jamie Crooks put the game away with 3:48 remaining, cutting across the goal-mouth to score his 17th of the year.
Howse added his league-leading 48th of the season with 1:41 remaining.
The three stars were Manning (first), Gore (second) and Magee (third).