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Cougars clinch playoff spot

For a third straight season the Prince George Cougars have punched their ticket to the WHL playoffs.

Saturday in front of 5,805 the Cougars defeated the Edmonton Oil Kings by a 5-2 score. Jesse Gabrielle had two goals and an assist while Radovan Bondra chimed in with a goal and two helpers. Between the pipes Nick McBride stopped 31 of the 33 shots fired his way for the Cougars who secured their 40th victory of the season in the process. The power play went two-for-three and they outshot Edmonton 47-33.

Less than five minutes into the first Jared Bethune got the Cougars scoring started when he stripped an Oil King defenceman of the puck near the blueline, skated in alone on Oil Kings goaltender Josh Dechaine and roofed his 18th of the season.

Jesse Gabrielle made it 2-0 at the 12:01 mark when his shot from the left circle found it’s way through traffic and in. Both Jared Bethune and Sam Ruopp assisted on Gabrielle’s first of two on the night.

Late in the first though the Oil Kings got back within a goal when Connor McDonald beat Nick McBride off a shot from the right point on a power play. The shots were 21-8 favoring the Cougars after one, and they led 2-1.

It took nearly two full periods for the Cougars to earn their first power play chance, but when they got one late in the second they made it count. At 15:17 of the middle frame Jesse Gabrielle snuck his 29th of the season past Dechaine from the right circle. Seconds earlier, Dechaine sprawled to his right and made a phenomenal pad save off of Nikita Popugaev. Radovan Bondra and Nikita Popugaev would end up assisting on Gabrielle’s 29th of the season.

Once again though Edmonton would answer, and it was the power play that clicked again. This time it was veteran Tyler Robertson who ripped home his 15th of the season from the left circle at 18:10 to push the visitors back within a goal.

Period two ended with the Cougars ahead 3-2 and the shots were 36-20 for PG.

Early in the third the Cougars regained their two goal advantage and their stranglehold on the game with Josh Curtis knocked home a Jansen Harkins rebound from in close for his eighth of the season. Then, on a five-on-three power play, Radovan Bondra blasted a quick shot past Dechaine from the high slot to make the score 5-2, which is how the game would end. Edmonton outshot the Cougars 13-11 in the final period, but Nick McBride kept the door shut en route to his 13th win of the season and his seventh win his past eight starts.

With the victory the Cougars improved their record to 40-19-3-2. Their 85 points officially clinched them a playoff berth for a third straight season, and thanks to regulation losses from both Kamloops and Kelowna means that their lead in the B.C. Division standings now sits at five points with eight games remaining.

Next up for the Cougars: A huge road game on Wednesday against the Kelowna Rockets. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. at Prospera Place.

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