By Eric Walsh
Lucas Gore made 60 saves but it wasn't enough to save his team Friday night as the Chilliwack Bruins lost 3-2 in overtime to the Spokane Chiefs.
In the opener of their first round playoff series, the third-seeded Chiefs looked like the superior team while the Bruins looked very much like the underdogs they are. Gore's heroics got Chilliwack to overtime, but it felt like a simple matter of delaying the inevitable as the Chiefs guaranteed themselves at least a split of the first two games in Chilliwack.
The opening frame featured a lot of shots, but few blue-chip scoring opportunities as both teams played a cautious first period.
The Chiefs were putting pucks on net from every direction in the early going. Shots were 8-0 at the eight minute mark before a Brandon Manning point shot found its way through to the Spokane net. Manning had a couple bombs that caused trouble, but the best Bruins chance came on a late power play, with a Roman Horak to Robin Soudek re-direct. Reid butterflied to make the save, one of seven stops.
Gore's biggest test at the other end came from Czech import Marek Kalus who was left alone in front to jam away at a loose puck. Holding his skate against the left goal-post, Gore kept the 17-year-old from shoving the puck across the line.
The first period had a physical edge.
Defenceman Zach Habscheid got the worst of an encounter with Kenton Miller along the right wing boards. The blueliner was down for a couple minutes and left the game putting little weight on his right leg.
He did return to start the second period, but struggled with his mobility.
Chilliwack's Tyler Stahl set the physical tone for his team, lining up Dominik Uher for a devastating hit just inside the Bruins blueline. The good guys hit everything in a red sweater and did it cleanly, staying out of the penalty box.
When referee Chris Chrich finally raised his arm to call a Chilliwack penalty, it proved costly to the home team. Robin Soudek was flagged for charging at 5:14 of period two. With four seconds remaining in the minor Gore tried to clear the puck around the right wing boards, but Spokane defenceman Brendan Kichton pinched to hold the puck in.
The second-team all-star passed quickly to tough guy Darren Kramer, who had a tap-in at the far post.
The Bruins kept their composure and came right back with two goals in 2:37.
Curt Gogol got the first at 7:27, reeling in a feed from Dylen McKinlay in the slot and snapping a top shelf shot as he was cross-checked to the ice.
Moments later, Kevin Sundher led a two-on-one rush with Jamie Crooks. Chiefs D-man Tanner Mort belly-flopped to the ice to take away the pass, but Sundher slammed on the brakes and let Mort slide out of the way, finding Crooks for an easy tap-in.
Credit Gore for a couple huge stops in the middle frame.
First, the 20-year-old darted right to left to rob Levko Koper on a shorthanded two-on-one.
With the crowd still ooohing over that one, he produced a spectacular post-to-post stop, taking a sure goal away from Blake Gal with a right pad save.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Spokane 38-17, but the scoreboard favoured Chilliwack 2-1.
The Chiefs started period three on a power play, with Sundher serving two minutes for tripping. The Bruins successfully dodged that bullet, but Spokane continued to press. The Chiefs had a series of how-did-they-miss moments before Tyler Johnson notched the equalizer at 3:45.
Johnson led the league with 53 regular season goals and got his first of the playoffs with a laser from the slot, beating Gore high to the glove side.
Of all Gore's notable saves, the biggest came at the seven minute mark of period three. Johnson got himself a shorthanded breakaway from center ice in. The 20-year-old tried to beat Gore's glove a second time, but the Kamloops native smothered the shot. Gore made a few more highlight reelers afterwards to get his team to sudden death overtime.
Exactly halfway through the first OT period, Kramer got the winner. Collin Valcourt got the assist, throwing the puck on net from the left corner. Covering for defenceman Tyler Stahl, who got caught up ice, 16-year-old Brandon Magee had little hope of out-muscling Kramer in the goal crease. The 19-year-old popped the loose puck past Gore, leaving the Bruins and the hometown crowd to wallow in disappointment.
Three stars were Gore (first), Johnson (second) and Kramer (third).
Game two is Saturday night at Prospera Centre with a start time of 7 p.m.