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Cougars stay alive in convincing style, defeat Portland Winterhawks 6-1

Tickets for Game 6 Monday at CN Centre on sale Friday morning, sellout crowd expected
Cougars winger Koehn Ziemmer scored two goals and also drew an assist to lead the Cats to a 6-1 win over the Portland Winterhawks Thursday in Portland. The 'Hawks still lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 set for CN Centre Monday night.

Get ready Cougars fans.

WHL playoff mayhem, Prince George style, is coming back to CN Centre Monday night.

The Cougars guaranteed that Thursday night at Veterans Memorial in Portland, Ore., with a decisive 6-1 victory over the Portland Winterhawks in Game 5 of the WHL Western Conference final.

Still trailing the series 3-2, the Cats will have a chance to tie the best-of-seven affair with another win on Monday that would force Game 7 on Tuesday.

Koehn Ziemmer spiced the Cougar offence with two goals and an assist.

Hunter Laing, Ondrej Becher, Borya Valis (on a penalty shot) and Keaton Dowhaniuk also scored for the visitors, whose resilient effort to keep their WHL title hopes alive silenced a near-capacity crowd of 6,138.

Josh Ravensbergen stopped 25 of 26 shots in the Prince George nets to earn his 10th win of the playoffs.

Considering his body of work over the past two seasons,  before he broke his ankle and was unavailable for nearly four months, it was only a matter of time before Ziemmer had an offensive breakout like he’s done so often in his WHL career, and he could not have picked a better time.

His two goals in the first period dug the Cougars out of 1-0 hole after the ‘Hawks caught a couple breaks to open the scoring seven minutes in.  Hudson Thornton overskated the puck in his own end and that allowed Portland to get set up and Marek Alscher ripped a low slapper that was tipped wide of the net by Gabe Klassen. The puck hit the end boards and bounced right back to Klassen who tucked it in on the short side.

Just shy of the midway mark of the period, Viliam Kmec knocked down a clearing attempt at the Portland line and passed it up to Ziemmer and the Los Angeles Kings draft pick showed big-league form ripping a shot in off the water bottle behind Jan Spunar.

Ziemmer gave the Cats the lead late in the period with a drag-move to avoid his check in the slot and his quick wrist shot dropped off Spunar’s trapper into the net.

The difference in the Cougars was obvious and they showed what was missing the previous two games in Portland. They tightened up their defensive-zone coverage and didn’t allow the wide-open shots the Winterhawks cashed in the previous night. They got into the shooting lanes and blocked shots, they dove to break up passes and defuse dangerous-looking Portland rushes, and the forwards did not get caught out of position.

With their defence working so well, that led to chances in the other end.

In their losses in Game 3 on Monday 4-1, and a 5-2 defeat on Wednesday the Cougars looked unsure of themselves on the ice, lacking the confidence that got them to the top of the Western Conference ladder, one point ahead of Portland, in the regular season. On Thursday they got their mojo back.

“I think for the first time all season the team just needed to grab some confidence inch by inch,” said associate coach Jim Playfair. “It wasn’t a game where we started off on an offensive flurry and we didn’t get a great power play and score a goal early in the game, sol we had to find a way.

“The first goal we gave up we realized we just mishandled the puck and we got back to work. It was one of those games where the players felt good but they just didn’t naturally have the edge to their confidence. That was the first time all year they lost three in a row but they fund a way and stuck with and I thought we did a good job on special teams. Getting (Hunter Laing) back in the lineup was a big part of it for us.”

Special teams were a huge factor. The Cougars remained disciplined, taking just one minor penalty through the first 40 minutes and their power play came through for them again midway through the second period.

With Marcus Nguyen off for high-sticking Becher, the Cougars gained the zone and Valis fired off a shot that ricocheted off the end glass and landed at the feet of Laing. The six-foot-six, 192-pound Laing, who missed Game 4 with an injury, shifted the puck on his backhand side and put it between his legs to let go a shot in tight traffic that sailed in behind Spunar.

Down 3-1, the Winterhawks came close to narrowing the gap just before the second period ended but the rookie Ravensbergen delivered a pair of game-saving stops in the final 15 seconds. The first was a Tyson Jugnauth point shot with bodies in front and then with one second left in the period Edmonton Oilers prospect James Stefan let rip a smoker from the slot that Ravensbergen somehow kicked out with the toe of his skate.

In the third period the Cougars took advantage of a Portland miscue to go ahead 4-1. A pass back to Jugnauth skipped over his stick just outside the Cougars ‘ zone and Shtrom took off with it as Jugnauth fell to the ice, creating a 3-on-1 that Becher finished by chipping in Shtrom’s pass into the far side of the net.

Valis made good on his penalty shot at 11:19 after getting the hook from behind from Carter Sotheran. The Colorado native scored his eighth of the playoffs, beating Spunar with a shot through the 5-hole.

Dowhaniuk capped the scoring with his fourth of the postseason when he joined the rush and was set up by Becher.

LOOSE PUCKS:  Tickets for Game 6 go on sale Friday at 11 a.m., available online on the Tickets north website or at the CN Centre box office.  If the Cougars win Game 6 on Monday, the series will be decided on Prince George ice in Game 7 on Tuesday…  For the second-straight game the Cougars were without WHL rookie-of-the-year candidate RW Terik Parascak, still sidelined with an upper-body injury he sustained in Game 3… The ‘Hawks were still without injured Luca Cagnoni, who led all WHL defencemen this season with 90 points, and were also the services of RW Josh Davies, who saw only limited action in the series opener in Prince George… Jeff Ingram, voted the WHL’s official of the year, wore the orange arm band as the referee in Thursday’s game, along with Cody Koop… The Cougars hit the highway for the 12 1/2 hour (1,175 kilometre) trip back to Prince George. The bus is expected to arrive outside the Cougars CN Centre office sometime Friday afternoon…. The Winterhawks will board their bus Saturday morning…. The Eastern Conference final resumes Friday (6 p.m. PT) in Saskatoon. The Blades are tied 2-2 in the series with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Game 6 will be played Sunday afternoon in Moose Jaw. The two Saskatchewan cities are 228 km apart.


WHL Western Conference final


Prince George Cougars vs. Portland Winterhawks

(Winterhawks lead best-of-seven series 3-1)

Game 5

Thursday summary

Cougars 6 at Winterhawks 1

First Period

1. Portland, Klassen 5 (Alscher, Jugnauth) 7:03

2. Prince George, Ziemmer 3 (Kmec) 9:43

3. Prince George, Ziemmer 4  (Becher, Dowhaniuk) 18:38

Penalties – None.

Second Period

4. Prince George, Laing 1 (Valis, Thornton) 11:47 (pp)

Penalties – Heidt PG (holding the stick) 3:42, Jugnauth Por (holding) 4:33, Nguyen Por 9high-sticking) 11:37.

Third Period

5. Prince George, Becher 5 (Shtrom) 3:22

6. Prince George, Valis 8 (penalty shot) 11:19

7. Prince George, Dowhaniuk 4 (Becher, Ziemmer) 13:30

Penalties – Sotheran Por (hooking) 11:19, Funk PG (roughing, misconduct), Valis PG (embellishment), Buttazzoni Por (hooking), Chyzowski Por (hooking), Nguyen POR (roughing, misconduct) 17:10, Becher PG (roughing), Alscher Por (roughing) 19:18.

Shots on goal by

Prince George  15          9             13          -39

Portland             10          9             7             -26

Goal – Prince George, Ravensbergen (W,10-2); Portland, Spunar (L,11-2).

Power plays – PG: 1-3; Por: 0-2.

Referees -  Jeff Ingram, Cody Koop; Linesmen – Ron Dietterle, Michael McGowan.

Attendance -  6,138