Mikhalchuk fires OT dagger for Cats

The Prince George Cougars won't make the playoffs but could not resist the chance to rain on the postseason ambitions of their WHL archrivals, the Kamloops Blazers.

The teams met Friday night in Kamloops in a game that meant nothing in the standings to the Cougars and everything to the Blazers, who started the game one point out of a playoff position.

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On this night the Blazers did not have an answer for Vladislav Mikhalchuk. The Belerusian winger scored two goals, including the gamewinner 3:46 into overtime, and finished with four points to trigger a 5-4 win over the Blazers. Mikhalchuk took a pass from linemate Josh Curtis and put a backhander in behind goalie Dylan Garand to end it.

Kamloops overcame a two-goal deficit late in the game. Kyrell Sopotyk scored on a power play with 6:21 left and Connor Zary got his stick on a goalmouth pass from Zane Franklin to score the equalizer with 55 seconds left in regulation time, with Garand on the bench for the extra skater.

The Cougars were down 2-1 heading into the third period and scored the next three goals to grab their second lead of the game. Mikhalchuk started it with his 23rd of the season 1:11 into the period, on a setup from Curtis. Then it was the 20-year-old Cougar captain's turn to score. Curtis took a pass from Mikhalchuk behind the net and banked in a shot off Garand while standing behind the goal line.

Mike MacLean put the Cats ahead 4-2 with 9:50 gone in the third on an unassisted effort. He jumped out of the penalty box and with a burst of speed down the left wing eluded Luke Zazula for a breakaway and he buried his fifth of the season.

Cougar defenceman Rhett Rhinehart opened the scoring when he joined the rush and was fed in the deep slot by Mikhalchuk. Kobe Mohr and Ryley Apelt had the other Blazer goals. The Cougars went 0-for-3 on the power play while the Blazers finished 1-for-3.

Taylor Gauthier made 29 saves for his 15th win of the season, while his team outshot the Blazers 35-33.

The Cougars (19-40-5-3) won consecutive games for the first time since January and they ended a four-game Kamloops winning streak. The Blazers (27-32-6-2) did pick up a point for the overtime loss and are now tied with the Kelowna Rockets (27-32-6-2) for the third and final playoff spot in the B.C. Division. Kelowna lost 2-1 to the Vancouver Giants Friday night in Langley and will face the B.C. Division leaders again tonight in Kelowna.

Prince George and Kamloops will play their regular season-ending rematch tonight at CN Centre. A big crowd is expected on Fan Appreciation Night with 4,200 tickets already sold.

If Kelowna and Kamloops end the season with identical records they would face each other in a tiebreaker Tuesday night in Kamloops.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Cougars will host their annual awards banquet Sunday morning starting at 10:30 a.m. at the Civic Centre.

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