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Cougars' late letup not enough to deny them another win over Spokane

Cats lead best-of-seven series 2-0 heading into Game 3 on Tuesday

The Prince George Cougars got what they wanted and beat the Spokane Chiefs again to take a 2-0 lead in their WHL Western Conference playoff series.

Their 7-4 victory Saturday in front of a CN Centre crowd of 5,678 might appear rather one-sided, and for the first two periods it was. But all of a sudden, that puck turned into a hand grenade and Cougars couldn’t help but fumble it.

The Chiefs got them off their game and frustration boiled over into a loss of discipline and four third-period Spokane goals. Their night’s work could very well have unravelled on the Cougars if not for the fact they scored five goals in the second period to take a 6-0 lead.

“I didn’t like a lot of our game at all, even the first 40 minutes, I thought we were lucky to be up in the game,” said Cougars head coach Mark Lamb.

“We didn’t move our feet and then we got selfish and took stupid penalties and yapped at the ref and that’s a way to lose hockey games. It’s not a recipe to win at all, a parade to the penalty box in the third when you’re up. We’ve got to play the right way and we didn’t.”

It wasn’t all bad and Cougar fans certainly got full entertainment value for the price of a ticket.

The Western Conference season champions built a big enough lead to withstand the Chiefs’ comeback bid and win their 11th straight game. They’ll head to Spokane Sunday morning with a two-game lead in the best-of-seven series having gone 21 games without a regulation loss, reeling off a 19-0-1-1 record over that stretch.

An unlikely source opened the scoring nine minutes in. Keaton Dowhaniuk, the third player chosen in the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft, isn’t known as a goalscorer, with just eight goals in 242 career games including playoffs leading up to Friday’s game. But just like his goal on Friday, he was in the right place at the right time, cruising in from the left point just after Cats forward Borya Valis was denied on a wraparound chance.

“It’s awesome, especially scoring with a big crowd like that, the fans love it,” said Dowhaniuk. “I just buried my head and shot.”

Dowhaniuk knows his team can’t afford to take periods off like they did, especially not in the playoffs when the stakes are so high.

“We just let the emotions get the best of us in the third there,” he said. “We just have to stick with it, what we were doing before. Stuff happens and we just have to get back to our game.”

It remained 1-0 until the 2:22 mark of the second, when the Cats took advantage of a turnover. Oren Shtrom stripped the puck just inside the blue line and took off on 2-on-0 with line mate Matteo Danis. They traded puck possession and Shtrom tried to get it back to Danis just as a Chief defender arrived and got his stick in the way to deflect the pass attempt but there was enough on it and the puck slid into the  net.

That was just the tip of the iceberg in the Cougars’ five-goal second period.

Ondrej Becher cashed in on the power-play goal with a rocket from the right side that hit the inside iron in the net and bounced out.

With five minutes left in the period the Cats’ all-rookie line touched off a three-goal outburst in just 73 seconds  Nick McLennan started it by intercepting goalie Dawson Cowan’s clearing attempt along the end boards and got the puck over to Jett Lajoie, who spotted Aiden Foster in front for an easy tap-in.

A minute later, Carlin Dezainde scored his second of the series, following up the rebound of Koehn’s Ziemmer shot that was left on the doorstep. That assist was Ziemmer’s first point since Nov. 28, when he went down with an ankle injury.

The Los Angeles Kings’ pick was also in on the sixth Cougar goal, setting up defenceman Viliam Kmec on another odd-man rush for a 6-0 lead that chased Cowan out of the game, replaced by Cooper Michaluk after he gave up six goals on 16 shots.

Fifteen Cougars got on the score sheet.

“We just showed the depth of our team, everybody throughout the lineup is contributing and wants to win the series, so it’s nice when you can rely on anybody,” said Cougar captain Hudson Thornton.

Owen Martin stoked the Chiefs’ offence 58 seconds into the final period and Hayden Paupkanekis breathed more fire into the proceedings when he tipped in a shot at the eight-minute mark on a Spokane power play. The visitors continued to dominate the puck and win possession battles and that led to back-to-back goals from point man Layton Feist.

Leading by two goals, the outcome was still somewhat in doubt until Cougars winger Terik Parascak iced it with an empty netter, his fourth of the playoffs, with a minute left.

“We just kind of imploded as a group and got away from our discipline that worked all the way up to that point and obviously we can’t do that again,” said Thornton.

“They were doing a good job of getting us off our game, trying to create energy for their team and we kind of fed into it a bit and it showed from all the penalties and stuff.  They get momentum off that and started putting the puck in the net. We’re up by two but we can’t play like that at all, we just hit the reset button from tonight and just start on Tuesday from puck drop and get back to the way we should play in the series.”

Until they fell into their third-period slumber, the Cougars defence was air-tight. They out skated the Chiefs and used smart stick positioning to break up dangerous-looking chances, rarely allowing them to get set up in the Prince George end. When they did free the puck, Joshua Ravensbergen was ready with his six-foot-four body.

Ravensbergen tied the WHL rookie record for shutouts in a season with six and looked like he might be on his way to his first playoff shutout, until Martin chipped in a low shot in after the Chiefs won the draw in the Cougar end.

The Chiefs boarded the bus for the 13-hour return trip to Spokane armed with a small victory they hope will provide a boost in Games 3 and 4 Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We’re happy with the third, we won it and we needed something to take home with us after a couple tough nights,” said Chiefs head coach Ryan Smith. “The second period cost us. Turnovers and penalties, it was a theme (Friday) night and it’s a theme tonight. They’re a good team, they don’t let you off the hook and they showed that in the second.

“You look at their goals, their breakaways, their 2-on-1s, their power plays and guys left alone in the slot. They take advantage of any sliver out there and make it count. We can’t lose hope, it takes four to win and they’re off to a 2-0 start and have held on, it’s our turn now.”

WHL Western Conference quarterfinal playoffs

Spokane Chiefs vs. Prince George Cougars

Cougars lead best-of-seven series 2-0

Saturday summary

Game 2

Chiefs 4 at Cougars 7

First Period

1. Prince George, Dowhaniuk 2 (Valis, Danis) 9:31

Penalties – Catton Spo (tripping) 10:28

Second Period

2. Prince George, Shtrom 1 (Danis) 2:22

3. Prince George, Becher 2 (Thornton, Funk) 8:35 (pp)

4. Prince George, Foster 1 (Lajoie, McLennan) 14:24

5. Prince George, Dezainde 2 (Ziemmer, Heidt) 15:24

6. Prince George, Kmec 1 (Ziemmer, Heidt) 15:37

Penalties  -  Papaunekis Spo (boarding) 7:05, Preston Spo (interference) 17:03, Dezainde PG (hooking) 18:43.

Third Period

7. Spokane, Martin 1 (McIsaac, Bonni) 0:58

8. Spokane, Paupanekis 1 (Martin, Van Olm) 8:34 (pp)

9. Spokane, Feist 1 (Crampton) 14:18

10. Spokane Feist 2 (Catton, Harrington) 18:50

11. Prince George, Parascak 4 (Heidt, Dezainde) 19:26 (en)

Penalties – Weinstein Spo (roughing) 5:25, Crampton Spo (cross-checking), Parascak PG (slashing) 5:34, Funk PG (slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct) 5:37, Preston Spo (hooking), Funk PG (misconduct) 9:16, Dezainde PG (roughing) 12:02, Heidt PG (tripping) 12:24, Roulette Spo (holding) 12:31.

Shots on goal by

Spokane            7            12          11          -30       

Prince George  7            13          8            -28

Goal – Spokane, Cowan (L,0-1, 16-10) and at 15:37 of second, Michaluk (15-14); Prince George, Ravensbergen (30-26, 1-0).

Power plays – SP: 1-4; PG: 1-6.

Three stars – 1. Viliam Kmec, PG; 2. Riley Heidt, PG; 3. Layton Feist, Spo.

Referees – Mike Campbell, Stephen Campbell; Linesmen - Ron Dietterle, Tyler Garden.

Attendance – 5,768.