Cougars Stage Remarkable Comeback
After 40 minutes of play Friday in Lethbridge the Cougars appeared destined for a loss. They were down 5-1 and were having all sorts of trouble containing a high powered Lethbridge offense. But Friday the 13th proved to be a memorable one for the Cougars who struck for four third period goals to tie the game at five. Nikita Popugaev then scored the only goal in the shootout to help lift the Cougars to a come-from-behind 6-5 shootout victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Popugaev led the Cougars attack with a goal and two assists during regulation while Brogan O’Brien, Jansen Harkins and Jesse Gabrielle each chipped in with two points. Between the pipes Nick McBride made 37 saves to earn his seventh victory of the season and the 30th win of the season for the Cougars. It marked the second consecutive game that the Cougars won despite trailing after two periods.
After one period the Hurricanes held a 3-1 lead. Jordy Bellerive opened the scoring at 4:51 into the first off a shot from the left circle. Brennan Riddle then snuck his third of the season past McBride 54 seconds later to make it 2-0. Nikita Popugaev answered for the Cougars 48 seconds off a Kody McDonald rebound to make it 2-1, but Jadon Joseph late power play goal at 16:01 moved the home side back ahead by two.
4:58 into the middle period Lethbridge extended their lead thanks to a Brennan Menell shorthanded breakaway goal. Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong then got in on the act when he raced in alone on McBride and backhanded home his 30th goal of the season. The second period would come to an end with Lethbridge leading 5-1 and outshooting the Cougars 26-22.
Jesse Gabrielle got the Cougars comeback bid started with a power play goal at 5:13 of the third. His 21st came off an excellent cross-ice pass from Nikita Popugaev from the left circle.
Josh Curtis then moved the Cougars a little bit closer when he and Jansen Harkins teamed up on a shorthanded goal at the 6:55 mark. Harkins spun off the defender and placed a perfect pass to Josh Curtis who did the rest, firing his seventh of the season past Stuart Skinner. It was the seventh shorthanded goal of the season for the Cougars.
At 10:23 of the third the Cats moved within a goal when Brogan O’Brien took a pass from Nikita Popgaev, split through two Hurricane defenders before tucking a backhand shot over the left pad of Skinner for his sixth of the season.
Brogan O’Brien wasn’t done. With 4:01 remaining in the third period he crossed the Lethbridge blueline, raced into the slot and placed a perfect shot over the right shoulder of Skinner and home to tie the game at five!
Despite some great chances at both ends in the final minutes of regulation the game remained tied and overtime would be needed.
Both goaltenders were stellar in overtime. Nick McBride made a phenomenal glove save off of Girgio Estephan and Skinner denied Jesse Gabrielle’s point blank opportunity with his blocker. Despite the two teams combining for nine shots in overtime, neither goalie would relent and a shootout would be required to determine a winner.
Lethbridge elected to have Prince George shoot first, which proved costly. Nikita Popugaev skated in close on Stuart Skinner and finished off a backhand deke for his second shootout goal of the season.
Jordy Bellerive was first for Lethbridge but missed wide to the stick side on his shot attempt.
Radovan Bondra and Tyler Wong were then both unsuccessful for their respective teams in Round 2 and Jansen Harkins came up empty in round three for Prince George which put the game on the shoulders of Girgio Estephan.
The Buffalo Sabres prospect skated in close on McBride but lost a handle on the puck on his backhand attempt and was denied to help cement the Cougars shootout victory!
Both teams finished the game one-for-four on the power play and each team netted a shorthanded goal. The final shots were 42-39 for Lethbridge who with their single point are now unbeaten in regulation in each of their past four games. The Cougars have now won two straight and are 30-12-2-0 for the season and 16-5-1-0 away from home.
Next up for the Cougars: A trip to Calgary to face the Hitmen. It will mark the finale of a stretch of four games in the span of five nights.