A four goal game from Spencer Bennett wasn’t enough to stop the Chilliwack Bruins Saturday night as they clinched a Western conference playoff spot. For the second time in four days the good guys handled their B.C. division rivals with ease, winning this one 8-5. Combined with Seattle’s regulation time loss to Prince George, Chilliwack secured a post-season berth that just three weeks ago looked like a long shot.
The Bruins jumped all over the visitors in the early going, opening the scoring at 3:50 on a strike by Kevin Sundher. Brandon Magee drew the assist, cutting hard to the net around Giants D-man Neil Manning. Vancouver netminder Mark Segal made the stop, but Sundher pursued the loose puck behind the net and threw it out front, banking it off the netminder’s skates and in for his 21st of the year.
The Bruins got another break three minutes later when Ryan Howse spotted Brandon Manning chugging down the left wing. Howse floated a waist-high pass through a Giants defender to Manning, who gloved it down and fired it home for his 21st of the year.
Less than a minute later, Jamie Crooks picked Segal’s pocket behind the Vancouver net and threw the puck into the blue paint. Sundher darted in and poked it in for his second of the game. Segal left the net at that point, yielding to backup Brenden Jensen after surrendering three goals on seven shots.
Working on a power play at 9:50, a Howse pass across the slot to Roman Horak hit the Czech’s skate and took a Bruins bounce to Robin Soudek in the slot. Jensen was caught out of position, leaving Soudek with nothing but net to shoot at for his 23rd and a 4-0 Chilliwack lead.
The Giants didn’t fold their tents, and came back to score the next two goals, both on the power play.
Bennett got his first at 14:55 with Chilliwack’s Jesse Zgraggen in the box for tripping. He struck again at 19:21, with Steven Hodges serving two minutes for slashing.
But with Vancouver threatening to make a game of it, the Bruins came up with a timely last minute goal to stop the bleeding. Magee started the scoring play, taking a hit at the blueline to get the puck ahead to Sundher. Flying through the right faceoff circle, the Surrey native pulled up on Giants D-man David Musil and feathered a pass to Jamie Crooks. His 18th of the season helped the Bruins tie a franchise record for goals in a period as they carried a 5-2 lead to period two.
Howse added to the lead 2:43 into the middle frame, scoring on a Chilliwack power play. Just eight seconds into a Nathan Burns tripping minor, Howse teed up a top shelf shot from the right faceoff dot, ripping the puck past Jensen for his 49th.
With the events of Wednesday’s meeting (a 6-2 Bruins win) still fresh in their minds, the rough stuff escalated along with the score. Not a whistle went by without an extra shove. The extra-curriculars resulted in a lengthy Giants five-on-three at 7:44, with Roman Horak flagged for checking from behind, and Manning for roughing.
The G-men cashed in on Bennett’s third of the game, scored off a pretty cross-crease feed from James Henry.
The Bruins had a five-on-three of their own late in the period. But rather than sink the dagger in a bit further, Chilliwack gave up an ill-timed shortie to guess who? Bennett, whose fourth of the game sent the Giants into period three three with a glimmer of hope.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Vancouver 26-25.
But the Bruins continued to be very effective at protecting a third period lead, shutting down Vancouver in the final frame. Chilliwack extended the lead on a milestone marker by Howse. The Calgary Flames prospect became the first player in franchise history to hit the 50 goal mark, scoring at 8:19. Howse tied Spokane’s Tyler Johnson for the league lead and was rewarded with a standing ovation by the announced crowd of 4,193.
Sicamous native Cain Franson scored a late goal for Vancouver, and Soudek wrapped up the scoring, hitting the empty net with 12 seconds left.
The three stars were Howse (first), Bennett (second) and Sundher (third).
Chilliwack is back on home ice tomorrow night, hosting the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Centre. Puck drop is 5 p.m.