The Prince George Cougars continue to hold down a playoff position.
But with four losses in a row, it’s far from solidified. If their skid continues this weekend, they’ll be in a tough battle just to sneak into the postseason.
The Portland Winterhawks may not have preyed on the Cougars in their CN Centre doubleheader this week. But despite their efforts, the Cougars weren’t able to garner even a point. They also dropped a pair of regulation losses to the Everett Silvertips in last weekend’s home doubleheader.
Having been as high as first in the B.C. Division on Jan. 2, the Cougars have dropped below the .500 mark for the first time since mid-October.
The Cougars enter tonight’s game at Spokane with a record of 28 wins, 30 losses, two overtime setbacks and one shootout defeat (28-30-2-1). Seventh in the 10-team Western Conference with 59 points, they’re two behind the Silvertips (26-25-5-4) and one ahead of the Kamloops Blazers, who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot at 27-31-3-1.
Portland improved to a Western Conference best 41-16-0-3. With 85 points, they’re three ahead of the Spokane Chiefs (38-17-4-2).
This evening’s game starts a three-game road swing for the Cats, who have 11 more games remaining on their 2010-11 regular season schedule. They play at Everett on Saturday before wrapping up the trip against the Chilliwack Bruins on Sunday. At 24-29-2-3, the Bruins sit ninth in the conference. They’re six points behind the Cougars, but have played three fewer games.
“They’re battling for playoff life and if we don’t get back on track here we’re going to be in the same position as them, so we got to figure it out and start getting some wins,” Cougars forward Nick Buonassisi said.
The Winterhawks defeated the Cougars 6-3 on Tuesday and 6-5 on Wednesday. In the second game, the Cougars tried clawing back from a three-goal second-period deficit. After consecutive goals by the Cougars made it 4-3 for Portland, the teams traded goals until forward Charles Inglis rounded out the scoring with a power-play marker at 15:40 of the third period.
Players and coaches expressed their displeasure over the Winter Hawks’ sixth goal, by forward Ryan Johansen.
“The one was offside quite clearly, which is disappointing, but we did a pretty good job offensively and got a lot of chances towards the net and outshot them and played hard, I thought,” Cougars head coach Dean Clark said. “It’s just that they came back and got some easy goals.”
Scoring depth was on display as six different players picked up goals for Portland – Johansen, Joe Morrow, Brad Ross, Taylor Peters, Ty Rattie and Craig Cunningham. For the Cougars, the line of Buonassisi, Inglis and Troy Bourke combined for six points. Inglis scored twice, while Buonassisi and Bourke each had a goal and an assist. Forward Caleb Belter also found the back of the net.
In goal, Keith Hamilton picked up the victory for Portland while James Priestner took the loss for the Cougars. The Cougars outshot the visitors 40-29 and finished 2-for-7 on the power play. Portland scored once on five opportunities with the extra man.
“Their team, with their skill, if you make a mistake, they’re going to jump on you,” Clark said. “We have to make sure we’re able to answer back, and make sure we don’t give up those easy chances.”
Call-up – Cariboo Cougars goalie David Readman sat on the Winterhawks’ bench on Wednesday as an emergency back-up. The call-up was required after Portland starter Mac Carruth got injured from a collision with Spencer Asuchak in the third period of Tuesday’s game.
Overnight trip – The Cougars stuck around CN Centre after Wednesday evening’s game, with their bus scheduled to leave for Spokane at 11 p.m. They were planning to rest on Thursday to prepare for this evening’s contest.
Injury – Defenceman Cody Carlson missed Wednesday’s game after suffering an upper body injury on Tuesday. Clark said he’d be out of the lineup for a couple of weeks.
Attendance – The announced attendance at CN Centre for the Cougars-Winterhawks doubleheader was 1,623 on Tuesday and 1,771 on Wednesday.