If there’s one thing that should make Chilliwack Bruins fans very hopeful heading into the Western conference playoffs, it’s the play of starting goaltender Lucas Gore.
The 20-year-old Kamloops native fought through five inconsistent months, mixing stellar starts with brutal outings as his team slowly slipped out of the playoff picture.
But since late February, Gore has been money in the bank, turning in a series of great performances between the pipes.
He was named the CHL’s goaltender of the week two weeks ago, and Wednesday night he produced his best outing yet.
Gore led his Bruins into Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Arena, where he faced an astounding 78 shots.
While Chilliwack didn’t win the game, Gore’s goaltending earned them a single point — a 77 save effort resulting in a 2-1 shootout loss.
Bruins coach Marc Habscheid is often skeptical when it comes to shot clocks, but even he had to admit Gore had an exceptionally busy night.
“I don’t think they had that many, but even if you take 15 off it’s too many,” the bench boss said. “Spokane was shooting from all over. Every time they had a chance they threw it on net.”
With a wonky bench configuration, Spokane had a short change for two of the periods, maing it difficult for the Bruins to get fresh personel on the ice. The Chiefs used that to their advantage.
“The benches are kind of the opposite of the way they usually are, and Spokane applied a lot of pressure,” Habscheid said. “So even when we got out of our end, we couldn’t get a change. We had turnovers in the neutral zone and then we couldn’t get back out.”
Habscheid has noted several times that Gore’s reversal of fortune coincides with the turnaround of the team in general — more consistent attention to team defence reduces blue chip scoring chances, therefore making life easier on the goalies.
But Gore’s history shows he has a knack for getting better as the games get bigger. He was outstanding in the playoffs last year, and it seems he might be getting back into that zone.
“It’s a good thing (that he rises to the occasion) because we’ve been playing some pretty important games over the last three weeks,” Habscheid said. “His consistency has been good and that’s what we need.”
If Wednesday night’s game was a potential playoff preview, then it might be worrisome for the Bruins.
Well coached, the Chiefs might not be the most talented team in the league, but they are the best at ruthlessly executing a game-plan.
“They’ve got a good team and they’ve had success against a lot of teams,” Habscheid said of possible causes for concern. “But in the first period we were playing the way we wanted to and the shots were 10-8 or something. Even though things didn’t go our way last night, we still feel good about our game.”
Friday night brings another potential playoff preview as the Bruins visit the Tri-City Americans.
Were the playoffs to start today that would be the first round matchup, a rematch of last year’s opening round.
The Americans took that series in six hard-fought games.
“There’s extra motivation against them because earlier this season, when we were down, they had no problem running up the score on us,” Habscheid added. “We have long memories and that’s all I can say about that.”
The Bruins finish off the regular season Saturday night, hosting Everett. Regardless of the weekend results, Habscheid and company (32-30-3-3-) have guaranteed themselves the first ever .500 season in franchise history
“We just take every game and try to win it, and at the end of the season the league office will tell us who we play,” Habscheid said.