Gauthier picked up his second consecutive win and took home first star honours, as the Cougars won back-to-back games for the first time since November 18th. Pavel Azhgirei scored his first WHL goal and Josh Maser finished with a pair, including an empty-net goal inside the final half minute of regulation.
Peyton Krebs was the only Kootenay player to beat Gauthier, scoring early in the second period. Duncan McGovern was no slouch at the other end of the rink, as the ICE goaltender finished with 25 saves.
Azhgirei, who jumped back into the line-up Tuesday, made the most of his opportunity. The Belarusian intercepted a pass attempt up the middle and quickly snapped the puck over McGovern’s arm, just before the three-minute mark. Azhgirei scoring his first WHL goal 2:56 into the first.
Despite trailing, the ICE had plenty of chances in the first period but Gauthier stood tall. Alec Baer, Brett Davis and Dallas Hines all had opportunities in close but Gauthier turned them all away.
The Cougars had a couple of great chances to add to their lead and Brogan O’Brien was in on both looks. First, O’Brien forced a turnover at his blue-line and broke free up the middle on a breakaway, but he couldn’t lift his backhand up and over McGovern’s pad, who stretched out to make the save. He had another glorious chance and short-handed.
With a man in the box, Jared Bethune forced the ICE into a turnover at the blue-line and he and O’Brien broke in on a rare two-on-oh short-handed chance. The two played a little give-and-go but the exchange was somewhat fumbled, allowing McGovern to slide across and get his glove on Bethune’s attempt.
At the end of the period, it was the Cougars leading despite being outshot 15-7 in the opening frame.
In the second, the ICE finally broke through, as Peyton Krebs showed great speed to tie it nearly five-minutes in. After some pressure by Prince George, it was Kootenay’s Loeden Schaufler flinging a clearing attempt down ice. Krebs raced after the puck and was first to it when it landed inside the Cougars’ blue-line. Gauthier came racing out of his net but Krebs won the footrace and darted around the goalie and slid the puck into an open goal at 4:34.
The Cougars tried to push back and retake the lead but McGovern stood tall in the ICE net. Prince George’s best chance came off the stick of Vladislav Mikhalchuk, after he tried to redirect a cross-ice pass from Max Kryski, but McGovern lunged over picked it out of the air with his glove.
Then very late in the middle frame, Josh Maser and Josh Anderson took penalties three seconds apart, giving the ICE a five-on-three advantage to start the third period, and a chance to break the 1-1 tie.
The Cougars penalty-kill rose to the challenge and killed-off the nearly two-minutes of ICE power-play time to start the third period, and that set themselves up to retake the lead.
Shortly after the penalty-kill, Gauthier was tested again and made one of his best saves of the night, stopping ICE Captain Colton Kroeker on a breakaway. Gauthier getting his shoulder on Kroeker’s wrist-shot to preserve the tie.
Maser, who took one of those two penalties, broke the 1-1 deadlock nearly midway through the third. Ethan O’Rourke barged his way down the wing before jamming the puck behind the net. Liam Ryan was first two it, and despite being hit, he managed to fire a pass out front to an open Maser, who’s wrist-shot beat McGovern over the glove at 8:43.
Kootenay pressed in the third, firing 17-shots at Gauthier in the final frame, but they couldn’t muster up a tying goal. They pulled McGovern for the extra-attacker with just under two-minutes but Gauthier and the Cougars repelled the attack.
Maser put the game on ice, when he jumped onto the ice, found the puck in the neutral zone, and fired into the empty-net with half a minute left.
Final Score: 3-1 Cougars
Shots: 41-28 ICE
Power-Plays: Cougars 0-2 ICE 0-6
Three Stars: 1) Taylor Gauthier 2) Peyton Krebs 3) Pavel Azhgirei
Kody McDonald did not play Tuesday, as he began to serve the first game of a three-game suspension, he received after the game versus Vancouver Saturday. In his last two starts, both wins, Gauthier now has a .954 save percentage. Tuesday marked the first time the ICE played in Prince George in nearly two years, as it was Cougars winning 7-2 back on December 8th, 2015.
Prince George (11-14-2-2) now welcomes the BC Division-leading Victoria Royals (18-10-3-0) to the CN Centre on Sunday, December 10th; puck drop is 2 pm. It’s the Cougars’ annual Teddy Bear Toss game, as they ask fans to bring bagged stuffed toys and gently used winter clothing, to throw onto the ice. All items will be donated to the Salvation Army. Tickets are available at the TicketsNorth box office at the CN Centre, or online at www.ticketsnorth.ca
-Prince George Cougars