Two weeks ago, the Chilliwack Bruins season was on life support, their playoff hopes hanging from the very thinnest of threads. One week ago the home team was rallying. Their condition was still critical, but there was a glimmer of hope.
After a 4-1 win over Kamloops Saturday night at Prospera Centre, the Bruins are off life support and their chances at playoff hockey are downright rosy. Chilliwack (29-30-2-3) has climbed to within one game of .500, leap-frogging the Blazers (29-34-3-1) and Prince George Cougars (29-33-2-2) to sit seventh in the Western conference standings.
Amazing how five wins in six games can change everything.
Knowing the stakes, the good guys got off to an energetic start in this one, opening the scoring seven minutes and 31 seconds in.
Working on a power play, Ryan Howse wheeled out of the right corner and spotted Brandon Manning chugging in from the point. Manning took the pass in the high slot and fired a wrister that beat Kamloops keeper Jeff Bosch blocker side.
The goal was Manning’s 17th of the year.
Chilliwack was out-shooting the Blazers 6-3 at that point, but the tables started to turn as the Blazers found their legs. Forced back on their heels, the Bruins got sloppy and netminder Lucas Gore had to produce some outstanding saves to preserve the lead. His best was a sprawling stop on a Brendan Ranford backhander as the Philadelphia Flyers draft pick cut through the goal-mouth.
Gore ended up stopping a dozen shots as Kamloops out-shot the Bruins 12-8.
Chilliwack tightened things up in period two and retook the lead six minutes in on a goal by Roman Horak.
Manning worked the puck up to Howse, who sent Horak in alone with a pretty saucer pass. With Kamloops defenders Jordan DePape and Tyler Hansen in hot pursuit, the Czech went to the backhand, sliding the puck five-hole on Bosch.
The goal required video review confirmation, provided when referee Matt Kirk pointed to center ice.
As in the first period, it was the Blazers who got strong as the clock ticked on. Seconds after a glorious chance for Ranford, who shot the puck over the cross-bar on a partial breakaway, J.T. Barnett cut the Chilliwack lead in half with his 13th of the year. The ex-Vancouver Giant was left completely uncovered as he cut through the goal-mouth, sliding a backhander past Gore at 7:37.
But with Kamloops pressing for the equalizer, it was Dylen McKinlay coming through with the clutch tally to restore the two-goal lead. Defenceman Mitch Topping earned the only assist with a wrist shot from the left point that pinballed to McKinlay in the right faceoff circle. With 1:50 left in the period, the 19-year-old Langley native wheeled 180 degrees and slapped the puck past Bosch for his fifth of the year.
Chilliwack started the third period shorthanded thanks to a weak goalie interference call on Soudek, who fell slow-motion onto Bosch as the middle frame ended. But Kamloops struck out on the PP, part of an 0-for-4 night overall.
Losers of just one game this season when leading through 40 minutes, the Bruins did an excellent job closing this one.
Needing one more goal to put the Blazers away, Chilliwack turned to their scoring star for the clincher. Leading a two-on-one with Horak, Howse looked to shoot all the way, lasering a wrist shot off the left post and in for his team and league leading 47th of the year.
With the game officially out of hand, things turned pugilistic in the final five minutes.
McKinlay dropped the mitts and traded right handed bombs with Kamloops tough guy J.C. Lipon, earning a split decision in a spirited scrap. On the next shift, Blazers forward Ryan Hanes drove Chilliwack D-man Zach Habscheid into the boards, earning a five minutes major and game misconduct. As the final seconds ticked away, the home-town fans sent the Blazers away with a stirring rendition of Sha na na na, Sha na na na, hey hey, goodbye.
The three were Horak (first) Bosch (second) and Kevin Sundher (third).
Chilliwack is back on home ice tomorrow night at 5 p.m., hosting the Portland Winter Hawks at Prospera Centre.