The Prince George Cougars playoff hopes were given a shot of confidence on Tuesday night after their dramatic 6-4 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds at the CN Centre.
The Cougars’ Ethan Browne scored the game winner with just over three minutes left in regulation to break a 4-4 tie, as his shot went in off a defenseman on a delayed penalty against Seattle. That goal capped off a three-point game for Browne and he was named the first star.
Vladislav Mikhalchuk, Tyson Upper, Cole Moberg, Josh Maser, and Connor Bowie (empty net) also scored in the win. Taylor Gauthier earned his 11th win, stopping 36 of 40 shots.
Cade McNelly, Keltie Jeri-Leon, Conner Bruggen-Cate, and Ryan Gottfried scored for Seattle. Roddy Ross was tagged with the loss after he surrendered five goals on 38 shots.
The game was full of dramatic swings of momentum, as the Cougars kicked things off with three goals in the first 21 minutes to go up by three, however that was answered by four straight Thunderbirds’ goals, as they took a 4-3 lead into the third period, before the night was capped off with three straight goals in the final frame by Prince George. Three lead changes and 10 goals later, the Cougars picked up two big points.
The importance of the game underscored by the fact the Cougars were trailing the Thunderbirds by 10 points the Western Conference playoff picture heading into the game.
Special teams had its fingerprints all over this one, with each team coming away with two power-play markers each. The Cougars finished 2-4 on the man-advantage, the T-Birds went 2-6.
The Cougars came out strong in the first period, scoring just over three minutes into the game, when Mikhalchuk snapped home an Upper drop pass for his sixth of the season at the 3:23 mark.
Later in the period, Craig Armstrong came down the right-wing and created a rebound for Upper, who buried the loose puck into a wide-open net midway for his eighth goal of the season at 11:25.
In the second, the Cougars picked up where they left off in the first, as they manufactured their third goal of the night courtesy of a Cole Moberg blast on the power play. Moberg muscled his one-timer through the goalie’s arm for his eighth goal of the season 97-seconds into the middle stanza.
The fast start came to an abrupt end midway through the second, as the Thunderbirds turned the tables and started their comeback bid. Seattle got on the scoreboard when defenceman Cade McNelly scored a highlight reel goal on a spin move out front of the Cougars’ net at 11:27 to make it 3-1. Jeri-Leon made it 3-2 after he capitalized on a power-play moments after a rare gaffe by Taylor Gauthier with the puck behind the net at 14:52. Bruggen-Care brought the visitors back on even terms when he scored another power-play goal at 17:11 of the second period to make it 3-3.
That momentum carried over to the third period for the Thunderbirds, as they grabbed their first lead of the game five-minutes into the frame. Ryan Gottfried pinched down from the point and buried a cross-ice pass from Payton Mount to make it 4-3 T-birds at 5:18.
After four straight goals by Seattle, Prince George started to push back in the last 20 minutes of regulation. First, Josh Maser got the Cougars back level when he scored a power-play goal off a rebound at 8:51. Mikhalchuk’s one-timer was stopped but the puck jumped off the goalie’s pad and over to Maser, who put the rebound into an open net for his team leading 21st goal.
Both teams traded chances in the third when it was tied 4-4 but it was the Cougars’ special teams pulling through late. On a delayed penalty call against Seattle, it was Browne putting the puck off a defenceman’s skate out front and in past Ross in the final minutes. Browne was credited with his fourth goal and the game winner at 16:56.
Connor Bowie would put a bow on the game after his empty-net goal with 19 seconds left on the clock.
Game Notes: With the win tonight, the Cougars move within eight points of the Thunderbirds for the final wildcard playoff spot in the Western Conference. Mikhalchuk has now scored in three straight games and has six points (3-3-6) in his last three contests. Tyson Upper has five points (3-2-5) in the last four games, and Cole Moberg has four points (2-2-4) in the last three games.
Next Up: The Cougars (15-26-3-4) will look to move within six points of Seattle tomorrow night in the rematch; the puck drops at 7:00 pm. Single game tickets start at just $13 per person, per game. Fans can get their tickets at the CN Centre box office, or online at www.ticketsnorth.ca
Cougars – 2/4
Thunderbirds – 2/6
Cougars – 39
Thunderbirds – 40
Three Stars: 1) Ethan Browne 2) Tyson Upper 3) Payton Mount