Cougars clip Bruins in shootout thriller

Nick Buonassisi had the shootout winner Saturday night as the Prince George Cougars escaped Chilliwack with a 4-3 win over the home town Bruins.

Lucas Gore was outstanding in net for the locals, earning a crucial point for his team in the tightly packed B.C. division standings.

Playing their fourth head-to-head meeting over the last 11 days, this game got off to a venomous start. Chilliwack’s Tyler Stahl stirred things up on the opening shift, stapling Buonassisi into the boards a foot inside the Cougar blueline.

Daniel Gibb jumped to Buonassisi’s defence, challenging Stahl to a brief scrap that ended in a split decision.

Less than three minutes later, Chilliwack’s T.C. Cratsenberg and PG’s Jaroslav Vlach dropped the mitts at center ice. Vlach was no match for Cratsenberg, who landed three big rights that left the Czech winger bleeding and in need of repair.

It was the Cougars who opened things on the scoreboard. While killing a penalty, Nashville Predators prospect Taylor Stefishen poked the puck off Kevin Sundher at the Bruins blueline. The 20-year-old put his shoulder down and drove wide around Sundher, cutting across the Chilliwack goal-crease before sliding his 13th of the season past Gore.

The Bruins got that one back less than three minutes later on another power play, with Roman Horak firing a bullet from the high slot that Cougar keeper James Priestner couldn’t corral.

Camped in the crease, Robin Soudek dug out the puck for Ryan Howse, who roofed the puck from a sharp angle to knot the score at 1-1.

Shots on goal in period one favoured Chilliwack 13-11.

If either team had any finish, it could have been 6-6 through 40 minutes. The Cougars regained the lead on a four-on-four goal by Greg Fraser. With extra ice at his disposal, the 18-year-old speedster from Nanaimo flew down the right wing and lazered a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Gore might have been partially screened by Stahl as Frazer’s shot beat him high over his glove.

Chilliwack took just 63 seconds to answer that one on a goal by defenceman Mitch Topping. Howse drew a well-deserved assist, feathering a pass through to Topping as he darted down the left wing. The 17-year-old picked the top corner on Priestner for his fourth of the year.

But the Cougars had the last laugh in period two, scoring with just 18.5 seconds remaining.

With a delayed penalty coming up to Bruins captain Brandon Manning, PG’s James Dobrowolski did some good work behind the goal-line and shoveled the puck out front. Stefishen was there to pick up the puck, beat Gore and send his team to the third period with a 3-2 lead.

Shots on goal in period two favoured Prince George 15-10.

A quick whistle denied the Bruins the game-tying goal three minutes into period two. A puck was thrown on net and referee Nathan Wieler blew his whistle before Priestner got his trapper down on the loose puck.

Jamie Crooks poked the puck into the net, but Wieler waved it off as boos rained down from the 4,123 in attendance.

No matter. The Bruins drew even anyways with a Soudek power play tally at 5:49. Manning got the assist with a bomb from the point. Priestner stopped the shot but couldn’t find the rebound before Soudek, who punched it home for his 12th of the year.

That was the only goal in the final frame, one that landed Chilliwack in overtime for the second straight night. Five minutes and one outstanding Gore save later (point blank on Brock Hirsche), the good guys ended up in a shootout.

The Bruins went one-for-five in the breakaway competition, with a goal by Sundher and misses by Horak, Howse, Manning and Crooks.

Gore did what he could in the shootout, making highlight-reel stops on Troy Bourke, Taylor Stefishen and Charles Inglis. But Sena Acolatse slipped a puck past him, and Buonassisi beat him in the fifth round to end an extremely entertaining game.

Gore was a deserving choice as the game’s first star, followed by Fraser (second) and Howse (third). The Bruins are on the road tomorrow night, visiting the Vancouver Giants.