The Vancouver North East Chiefs have the Cariboo Cougars right where they want them.
On the brink of elimination.
The visitors from Burnaby beat the Cougars in their own spacious barn Friday night, winning 4-2 at Kin 1 to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three BC. Hockey Major Midget League semifinal series.
The Chiefs will have a chance to wrap it up this afternoon when the series resumes at 4:15 p.m.
The game took on an ominous tone for the Cougars 3:15 in when Chiefs defenceman Cody Hough let go a shot from between the players' benches at centre ice and the puck skipped off the ice and bounced high into the net behind Xavier Cannon.
The Cougars got that one back 30 seconds later when Brett Fudger hooked up with linemates Curtis Hammond and Lane Goodwin on a back-door play to beat goalie Logan Terness.
That didn't faze the Chiefs one bit.
They continued to be the aggressors, outhitting, outhustling and outchancing their opponents on the Olympic-sized rink and were rewarded with a couple more goals before the period ended.
Logan Kurki found a loose puck in front of the net and buried his chance from a couple metres out to make it a 2-1 game at the 17:17 mark.
Less than a minute later, Dante Berrettoni stripped the puck off the stick of Cougars John Herrington deep in Cougar territory and had a clear path to the net, finishing with a high shot in behind Cannon.
"You've got to work for your bounces and I didn't think we did that tonight," said Cougars head coach Tyler Brough.
"We got outworked in all three zones, chasing the game a little bit and when you're down 3-1 after the first it's tough to come back against a good structured team."
The Cougars had a better second period while outshooting the Chiefs 11-8 and they forced goalie Terness out of his comfort zone a few times, generating several close chances but no goals.
Terness, a 16-year-old Trail Smoke Eaters prospect came up with his best save late in the second period when Brennan Bott sprung Lane Goodwin with a breakaway pass just after Goodwin jumped out of the penalty box.
The Chiefs goalie came out to cut down the angle and made a blocker save to keep the two-goal lead intact. Herrington atoned for his mistake with 13 minutes gone in the third period when he swatted in a backhanded rebound that kicked into the slot after Max Arnold hit Terness with a hot shot from the point while the Cougars were on a power play.
But that's as close as it got for Cariboo.
They called a timeout with about a minute left but the Chiefs won the draw and Quinton Hill scored into an empty net.
The teams finished just two points apart in the standings and that gave the Cougars home ice advantage for the series. It was the first win for the Chiefs in Prince George since the 2015 league championship series, when they swept Cariboo in two straight.
"We've got to regroup, it's a best-of-three, the series isn't over," said Brough.
"We'll wash that one out and come back better tomorrow and ready to go because they haven't seen our best. We have to have some pride in that and show up and try and steal Game 2 and make a push for Game 3.
"We expected a battle. There's a lot of respect between the two coaching staffs, they're a well-coached, very structured hockey team that finished right below us in the standings and it could have gone either way.
"We've bounced back all year, we have a pretty resilient group in there and I'm expecting a bounce-back from us. Nobody wants the season to end and we're going to play hungry and give them our best effort."
The Cougars edged the Chiefs in a close regular-season series, winning one and tying three. They last faced each other on the outdoor ice at Ernie Sam Memorial Arena in Fort St. James, Jan. 20. That game ended in a 2-2 tie and was unofficially decided when Cougar forward Alex Ochitwa scored the only goal of the shootout.
Both teams swept their best-of-three quarterfinal series. The Chiefs eliminated the Vancouver Northwest Hawks last weekend in Burnaby, while the Cougars dispatched the Greater Vancouver Canadians, winning both games at Kin 1.
If Game 3 is needed it would be played Sunday (10 a.m. start). All games are at Kin 1.
The winner advances to the league championship against either the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds or Okanagan Rockets. They started their best-of-three semifinal Friday in Abbotsford, home of the defending-champion T-birds.
That game was tied 2-2 heading into the second overtime period.