Lethbridge @ UBC
It was a big weekend out on the coast for the Lethbridge Pronghorns this weekend, as they picked up a big series sweep over the T-Birds in Vancouver to keep themselves in the playoff race.
Friday night the 'Horns were backstopped by a tremendous 42 save performance by Scott Bowles along with a pair of three-point games from Brian Matte and outstanding rookie Adam Chorneyko. Matte's two goals bookended the scoring, as he got Lethbridge on the board at the 6:09 mark of the first period, and capped off the night with an empty-netter to secure a 5-2 win. Lethbridge's netminder Bowles was the difference early on, as he stopped 20 of 21 shots in the first period of play, allowing his team to take a 2-1 lead out of the first.
In the second game of the series, it was all Lethbridge, as they steam-rolled the T-Birds in an 8-0 rout. Lethbridge was paced by Chorneyko who netted a hat-trick to go along with two assists. With the five-point performance, Chorneyko moved only a single point back of Alberta's Sean Ringrose (25 points) for the rookie scoring lead, and leads the league in rookie goal scoring with 13 - four more than Ringrose. Bowles stopped all 31 shots he faced Saturday for his first shutout of the season.
The wins, coupled with Saskatchewan's pair of overtime defeats against Alberta means that Lethbridge picked up two points on the Huskies in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot. The 'Horns now sit two points back of the Huskies, with Saskatchewan holding two games in hand.
Lethbridge has a bye next weekend before opening the month of February in Edmonton against Alberta, while UBC remains at home this coming weekend to take on Saskatchewan.
#8 Manitoba @ Calgary
In a pivotal pair of games in the race for second place in the conference, the Bisons and Dinos split their weekend series in Calgary.
In the opener, the Dinos raced out to a 4-0 nothing lead thanks to a pair of goals from Torrie Wheat, en route to an eventual 6-1 win over the Herd. Calgary went two for two with the man advantage, while the Bisons couldn't capitalize on their two PP chances. For the Bisons, the six goals allowed were the most on the season, as starting goaltender Steve Christie got pulled after 40 minutes, as he surrendered five goals on 21 shots.
With both sides sitting at 24 points coming into the game, sole possession of second place was on the line Saturday night in the Stampede City. After falling behind 1-0 thanks to an Aaron Richards power play marker for the Dinos, Manitoba came back with a trio of second period goals to race out to a 3-1 lead, eventually holding on on for a 3-2 win.
By salvaging the split, the Bisons hold onto the inside track for home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Manitoba is set to host Alberta this coming weekend, looking to stall the Bears from clinching first place, while Calgary heads to the Queen City to take on the Cougars.
#2 Alberta @ Saskatchewan
Looking to end the Huskies home-ice dominance, the Bears headed to Rutherford Rink in Saskatoon for a pair of games. Entering the weekend series, the Huskies were a perfect 8-0-0 within the happy confines of Rutherford Rink, while Alberta rolled into town riding an 11-game conference winning streak.
Friday night in Toon Town, after two relatively tame periods that saw the Bears take a 2-1 lead into the third, things really opened up in the final 20 minutes as Saskatchewan stormed back with three goals in a span of 2:56 early in the third to take a 4-2 lead. Saskatchewan looked poised to continue their home-ice dominance before Alberta got goals from and Brian Woolger and Jesse Gimblett who scored his second of the game to even the score at 4-4. The game would need overtime, and on the first shift of the extra frame, CW leading scorer Chad Klassen found a pinching Kyle Fecho in the Saskatchewan zone, as he made no mistake from point-blank range, beating Saskatchewan 'tender Jeff Harvey upstairs over an outstretched glove.
Saturday night proved to be another dramatic contest between the bitter rivals, as this time it was the Bears who would blow a two goal, third period lead, as Saskatchewan got goals from Kyle Ross and David Linsley to even the score at 3-3, forcing overtime for the second straight night. Once again OT was over almost as soon as it started, as this time Klassen found linemate Derek Ryan, as Harvey got a piece of Ryan's wrister but not enough, as the Bears eked out a 4-3 win.
The wins pushed the Bears that much closer to clinching first overall, as they can accomplish that feat next weekend in Winnipeg against the Bisons. Saskatchewan now finds themselves only two points up on fifth place Lethbridge, as the Sled Dogs head to UBC next weekend looking to get over a pair of heartbreaking OT losses.