Cougars end long road trip with loss

The longest road trip in several seasons is now behind the Prince George Cougars.

They put that 11-game marathon to rest Wednesday night in Spokane, losing 4-2 to the Spokane Chiefs.

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Vying for their third-straight victory, the Cougars came up against a veteran-stacked Chiefs team that used its speed to force the Cougars into penalty trouble early. Nolan Reid and Ty Smith each scored power-play goals to stake the Chiefs to a 2-0 lead by 14-minute mark of the game.

The Cougars appeared to cut that lead in half late in the period when a shot from Josh Curtis beat goalie Reece Klassen, but the goal was waved off when it was ruled Jackson Leppard made contact with Klassen just as the puck arrived.

After an uninspired first period in which they seemed a step behind the speedy Chiefs, the Cougars made a few adjustments and were much more effective in the second and third periods and the shots reflected that. Outshot 12-4 while being outscored 2-0 in the first 20 minutes, the Cougars worked at a 15-13 shot deficit the rest of the game.

Joel Lakusta made it interesting when he scored the only goal of the second period just 31 seconds into the frame. The Cougars had a chance to tie it midway through the period but Vladislav Mikhalkchuk was foiled on a breakaway by Klassen's poke check. Just before the second intermission, Cougars import Matej Toman just missed an open net when he got around Klassen, who had raced out to try to get to a loose puck.

The Chiefs gave themselves some more breathing room when Eli Zummack, on a right-wing rush, tucked the puck into the crease behind goalie Taylor Gauthier and Luc Smith was able to tap it in.

Josh Maser scored his 13th of the season with Gauthier on the bench but Jake McGrew ended the suspense with a empty-netter with four seconds left.

Spokane (third in the U.S. Division) improved to 23-13-2-2. The loss kept the Cougars (14-22-2-2) fifth in the B.C. Division and ninth in the Western Conference. They did get help out of town when Victoria beat fourth-place Kamloops 5-2 on Wednesday while Everett defeated third-place Kelowna 4-2.

The Cougars will play their first home game since Dec. 2 this Friday when they face the Kelowna Rockets in the first of back-to-back games. The Cats came into Wednesday's game having won three of five games since the Christmas break. They'll play their next six games at CN Centre.

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