Friday night at the CN Centre in front of 5,418 strong the Prince George Cougars dropped Game 1 of their opening round series with the Portland Winterhawks by a 4-2 score. The visitors struck twice in the first and once each in the second and third and clicked on two of their five power play chances. Colby McAuley had two helpers in response for the Cougars who were outshot 35-25.
Special teams were a big factor early as the Winterhawks opened the scoring just 4:36 into the first on a power play. Off a faceoff in the Cougars zone, defenceman Brendan De Jong found the puck in a maze of bodies in front of the net and swept a puck past Cougars starter Ty Edmonds to grab the first goal of the series.
Mid-way through the first Colby McAuley did his best to spark the Cougars and the crowd when he leveled Brendan De Jong with a thunderous open ice body check. The Cougars responded well and ended up firing 16 shots at the Portland net in the first period.
Finally in the waning minutes of the first the Cougars tied the game on a power play of their own. Jared Bethune parked himself in front of Portland goaltender Cole Kehler and knocked home a Kody McDonald rebound at the 17:49 mark.
43 seconds later though the Winterhawks snagged their lead back when sniper Skyler McKenzie took a pass in the slot and snuck a backhand shot past Ty Edmonds. The Cougars argued for goaltender inteference as Winterhawks captain Keegan Iverson appeared to have parked himself in the Cougars crease, not allowing Edmonds to maneuver to his left to make the save – But the referees ruled it a good goal and Portland led 2-1 after one.
Early in the second period one of the major turning points occurred when Cole Kehler made a sensational right pad save off of Brogan O’Brien, who while shorthanded snuck past two Portland defenders in alone, only to have his deke thwarted by the Winterhawks netminder.
Back came the Winterhawks at the tale end of a power play and captain Keegan Iverson placed a perfect shot past the left shoulder of Edmonds and home to make the game 3-1. Portland held the Cougars to just five shots in the second, outshooting them 16-5. They led 3-1 through 40 minutes.
Jansen Harkins got the crowd back into the game when he ripped his first of the playoffs past Kehler at the 2:43 mark of the third, but that’s as close as the Cougars would get.
Portland held the Cougars to only four shots in the entire final 20 minutes, and Colton Veloso’s empty netter at 19:22 clinched the game one victory for the visiting Winterhawks.
Both teams will practice and make the necessary adjustments before returning to action for Game 2 on Sunday at 5 p.m. at CN Centre.