Getting his first start in 21 games, Chilliwack goaltender Braden Gamble turned in a 55 save effort against the Portland Winter Hawks. But it wasn’t enough on Saturday night as Gamble’s Bruins fell 6-3 at the Memorial Coliseum.
It was the third straight loss for the good guys, and their third straight game giving up six goals.
Not a great trend.
The Winter Hawks did their best to bury the defensively challenged Bruins early in this one, scoring twice before the game was 10 minutes old.
Ex-Vancouver Giant Craig Cunningham got things started with a power play goal just 2:40 in. With Chilliwack’s Mitch Topping banished to the box for high sticking, Cunningham cut across the goal-mouth and roofed a backhander for his 22nd of the year. Four minutes later, New York Islanders first round draft pick Nino Niederreiter bulled down the right wing and snapped a beautiful shot under the cross-bar for his 25th.
Coming off a 6-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans Friday night, the fragile Bruins could have easily waved the white towel. Instead, they showed the type of never-say-die resiliency head coach Marc Habscheid has been calling for.
Robin Soudek started the comeback on a Chilliwack power play, scoring his 17th of the year off a faceoff. With less than three minutes remaining in the opening frame, Ryan Howse tied the game on another Bruins power play. Howse got his team-leading 42nd on an extremely sharp-angle shot from the side boards that somehow found its way past Portland keeper Mac Carruth. Howse’s 10th in his last seven games moved him to within two of Spokane’s Tyler Johnson for the league lead in goals.
Shots on goal in period one favoured Portland 17-6.
The high-powered Hawks regained control in the middle frame, led by their big guns. Niederreiter restored the Portland lead at 4:01 with another rush down the right wing and another NHL-calibre shot. Columbus Blue Jackets first rounder Ryan Johansen tallied his 30th of the year at 6:47, taking a pass from Niederreiter and sneaking a shot under Gamble’s arm.
The Bruins tried to rally.
Howse stole the puck off Taylor Aronson behind the Winter Hawks net and fed the puck to Kevin Sundher, who buried his 19th of the year to briefly cut the deficit in half. But Ty Rattie scored just over two minutes later to send Portland to the third with a 5-3 lead.
Niederreiter was gunning for the hat-trick in period three, and got it on a Portland power play. With just two seconds elapsed in a Tyler Stahl holding minor, Johansen won a faceoff to Niederreiter who hammered a shot off the post and in.
That was it for the Bruins, who fell to 24-29-2-2 on the season.
Chilliwack’s three-games-in-three-nights U.S. division road trip wraps up tomorrow night in Seattle. Puck drop is 5 p.m.