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Matteo Danis wins it for Cougars in overtime

Cougars centre's first goal of playoffs gives Cats commanding 3-0 lead over Kelowna Rockets

Matteo Danis wasn’t the most likely overtime hero in the Prince George Cougars’ lineup.

On a team that scored 316 goals in the season he had seven of them, none so vital as the one he scored 1:22 into overtime Tuesday night in Kelowna that cinched a 4-3 victory for the Cougars.

Danis, who turned 19 on March 27, was acquired in a trade from the Calgary Hitmen eight games into the season and when the Cougars needed somebody to end the Rockets threat to make the series close he answered the call.

“It couldn’t happen to a better guy, he works so hard, he’s a great teammate and he fits in well with this group,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “I couldn’t be happier for him.

“He scored 14 goals last year and he has very high character and I just thought he would be a real good fit for our group, and we‘ll have him for a couple years.”

In Saturday's game against the Rockets, Danis took a puck in the mouth area and was cut for 20 stitches, but that obviously did not slow him down.

Linemate Oren Shtorm started the play with a turnover in the Cougars’ end and he chipped the puck ahead to 16-year-old Jett Lajoie, bumped up to the third line to replace Carlin Dezainde, who was banished earlier in the game for getting involved in a staged fight with Rocket Hiroki Gojsic. Lajoie used his speed to move the puck deep into Kelowna territory and from the left side he spotted Danis standing just outside the crease and fed him a pass that was redirected in through the legs of Kelowna goalie Jaki Kykkanen.

“Jett’s a gamer. You put him out there and trust he can make a play unlike that and he did,” said Lamb.

Now they need just one more win, leading 3-0 in their best-of-seven, to move on to the third round of the WHL playoffs.

The Cougars can complete the sweep with a win Game 4 Wednesday in Kelowna.

They dodged two bullets late in the third period when a pair of Rockets shots nailed iron behind goalie Josh Ravensbergen. Ethan Mittelsteadt hit the crossbar with 1:40 left. To add to the drama, Mittelsteadt’s shot ricocheted off the bar and hit the back of Ravensbergen’s leg before it trickled wide of the yawning cage.  

Rockets defenceman Caden Price put the puck off the goalpost with a minute to go.

The Cougars won the special teams battle, scoring on two of four power-play chances and shutting down Kelowna’s power play on all five chances.

“Special teams won us the game,” said Lamb. “We weren’t at our best 5-on-5 so we needed that and Ravensbergen was good. Good teams find ways to win.

“We’re in the driver’s seat right now, three games to nothing, but it’s never over till it’s over.”

After being held scoreless in the first two games of the series, Kelowna coach Kris Mallette mixed up his lines for Game 3 to try to stimulate the offence and put left winger Tij Iginla back on the top scoring line with centre Gabriel Szturc and Andrew Cristall and they were a constant threat.

That combination drew the tying goal with 5:52 left in the third period. Iginla tried to split the defence carrying the puck into the zone but was stick-checked and Cristall whiffed at it, but Szturc cradled the puck on his stick and lifted a wrist shot in for his fifth of the playoffs.

The Cougars had just scored the go-ahead goal for their first lead of the game a few minutes earlier on a miscue behind the Kelowna net. Kykkanen left his crease and waited too long to clear the puck and Ondrej Becher snuck up on the goalie, who put it right on the stick of Borya Valis and he whipped a shot into the open net for his third of the series and fifth of the postseason, tied for the team lead.

The Cougars opened the scoring less than five minutes in.

Hudson Thornton took a high stick in the face from Kelowna forward Andrew Cristall, who was sent off for the infraction, and 22 seconds into the power play Thornton got his revenge. Becher’s pass attempt deflected off a Rocket right to Thornton in the high slot and he knocked the puck down with his glove, took two strides and stepped into a hard wrister that found the net for his second of the playoffs.

The Cougars were trapped in a revolving door to the penalty box in the first period, forced to kill off five shorthanded situations, including a double-minor to Hunter Laing and 5-on-3 chance for the Rockets that lasted 47 seconds, but somehow came out of it unscathed.

They can thank Ravensbergen for making that happen. He was without a doubt the best penalty-killer on the ice, holding off Iginla and Cristall, two of the more prominent Rocket forwards among several who forced the Cougar goalie to come up with stellar saves.

Ravensbergen’s teammates in front of him also did their jobs, defusing the Rockets’ attack with a series of shot blocks, picking up where they left off in Game 2.  As was the case in the first two games of the series, Bauer Dumanski was a monster on defence, making himself look like a goalie with his determination to keep that rubber disc from getting through to Ravensbergen.

Ravensbergen was picked as the WHL’s goaltender of the week after posting back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of the series. The 17-year-old rookie from North Vancouver made 21 saves in a 4-0 win on Friday and blocked all 16 Rocket shots in a 5-0 decision in Game 2 on Saturday.

The Rockets finally put one behind him with five minutes gone in the second period.

Price made a move on Lajoie to hold the puck in at the blueline and he sent it to Ethan Neutens for a one-timer from the left circle. That ended a shutout string that lasted a franchise-best 158 minutes 44 seconds.

Fifty-one seconds later, the Rockets took their first lead of the series, scoring from the same spot on the ice when Gojsic dug the puck out of the corner for Michael Cicek and his wrister sailed in over Ravensbergen’s glove.

The Cougars’ power play, which had gone 0-for-7 heading into Game 3, connected again 13 minutes into the second to make it a 2-2 deadlock. Becher got a return feed from Thornton and wired a slapper that caught the top corner of the net.

LOOSE PUCKS: Becher extended his point streak to 26 games… Three Cougars made NHL Scouting’s final rankings of draft-eligible players. Parascak is ranked 15th among North American skaters after he dropped one spot from the mid-term rankings. Becher moved up to 69th on that list, up from 84th at mid-term, while Hunter Laing also increased his stock, jumping from 108th to 86th in the final report… Rockets forwards Iginla (ninth) and Gojsic (63rd) are also in the final rankings… Medicine Hat Tigers centre Cayden Lindstrom, a native of Chetwynd, is third, while Lethbridge Hurricanes winger and Prince George native Miguel Marques is 53rd…The Saskatoon Blades took a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal Tuesday in Red Deer, defeating the host Rebels 8-5. The Blades can wrap that series up with another win in Red Deer in Game 4 Wednesday… The Moose Jaw Warriors lead the other Eastern semi 2-1 following a 5-3 road victory Tuesday over the Swift Current Broncos… The Portland Winterhawks have the Everett Silvertips on the verge of a series sweep, leading 3-0 after they defeated the ‘Tips 4-3 in overtime Monday in Everett. That series won’t resume until Friday with Game 4 in Everett.

WHL playoffs

Western Conference semifinal

Prince George Cougars vs. Kelowna Rockets

(Cougars lead best-of-seven series 3-0)

Game 3

Tuesday summary

Cougars 4 at Rockets 3 (OT)

First Period

1. Prince George, Thornton 2 (Becher, Heidt) 4:19 (pp)

Penalties – Cristall Kel (high-sticking) 3:57, Laing Kel (double high-sticking) 7:09, Valis PG (goaltender interference) 12:30, Dowhaniuk PG (cross-checking) 13:47, Kel bench (too many men) 15:34, Shtrom PG (holding: 19:41.

Second Period

2. Kelowna, Neutens 1 (Price, Sadhra-Kang) 5:13

3. Kelowna, Cikek 2 (Gojsic, Hurley) 6:04

4. Prince George, Becher 3 (Thornton, Parascak) 13:04 (pp)

Penalties – Sadhra-Kang Kel (high-sticking) 11:50, Dezainde PG (fighting, game misconduct), Gojsic Kel (fighting, game misconduct) 13:13, Funk PG (roughing) Sadhra-Kang Kel (roughing) 15:25.

Third Period

5. Prince George, Valis 5 (Becher) 10:25

6. Kelowna, Szturc 5 (Cristall, Iginla) 14:08

Penalties – Sadhra-Kang Kel 0:46


7. Prince George, Danis 1 (Lajoie, Shtrom) 1:22

Shots on goal by:

Prince George  9            12          10          1            -32

Kelowna            18          12          5            0            -35

Goal – Prince George, Ravensbergen (W,6-0); Kelowna, Kikkanen (L,4-5)

Power plays – Prince George: 2-4 Kelowna: 0-5.

Referees: Corey Koop, Bobby Jo Love; Linesmen: Nick Albinati, Riley Balson.

Attendance  - 3,787.