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Game Preview: GM #67 at Kamloops Blazers

THE SEASON:The Prince George Cougars franchise is in their 25th season in the Western Hockey League. The Cougars record is 18-40-5-3 through 66 games this season. The Cougars sit fifth in the B.C. Division and 10thin the Western Conference and are 2-7-1-0 in their last 10 games.

LAST GAME: The Cougars snapped a six-game losing streak on March 9th, beating the Portland Winterhawks 5-2 on home ice. It was the Cougars’ first win at home since January 12th, snapping a 13-game home losing streak. Josh Maser scored twice, and Connor Bowie, Austin Crossley and Vladislav Mikhalchuk added singles. Taylor Gauthier turned aside 37 shots picking up his 14th win.

TONIGHT: Though they’re out of the playoff picture, the Cougars will have a hand in potentially affecting it. Tonight, the Cougars kick-off a weekend double-header against the Kamloops Blazers, with Kamloops just one point back of the Kelowna Rockets for the final playoff spot in the B.C. Division. Seattle clinched the final wildcard spot on Wednesday, so now it’s down to Kamloops and Kelowna for the final playoff position in the Western Conference.

The fact the Cougars have a say if the Blazers make the playoffs should be a huge motivational factor. Even more so given the success the Blazers have had against the Cougars this season. How do you return the favour to a team that has won six of seven against you? knock them out of the playoff picture. The Cougars could potentially knock the Blazers out on home ice too. They would need to beat the Blazers in regulation and hope the Rockets win in Langley against the Vancouver Giants. But let’s not put the cart before the horse here. Simply put, this is their chief rival and a team they want to finish out strong against. On paper, they may not have “anything to play for,” but factor in the natural rivalry, dislike for one another and the playoff implications, the Cougars should be fired up.

The Cougars can’t take the Blazers lightly either. Kamloops will be very motivated with their playoff hopes on the line and this being their finale at home. Kamloops is playing maybe their best stretch of hockey to date as they’ve won four-straight. The longest active win streak in the Western Conference. In one week they’ve gone from being  seven points out to now being in the rearview mirror of the Rockets.  The Blazers are coming off a big 8-0 win over a depleted Victoria Royals squad on Wednesday. That following a 5-1 win over the Spokane Chiefs on Tuesday. During their four-game win streak, the Blazers have outscored their opponents 17-3. What’s even more impressive is the fact they’ve won four-straight without their number one goalie.

Dylan Ferguson was hurt in a 5-0 loss to the Vancouver Giants on March 6th. Rookie netminder Dylan Garand has stepped in and has allowed just three goals in his last four starts and picked up his first career shutout on Wednesday. The 16-year-old is 4-0 since Ferguson has gone down, posting a microscopic 0.73 goals-against average and a sparkling .971 save percentage. Garand will likely play both games this weekend.

VERSUS KAMLOOPS: 5-1 L vs. KAM (Nov 17th), 7-3 L vs. KAM (Nov 18th), 2-1at KAM (Dec 30th), 3-1 L vs. KAM (Jan 19th), 3-2 OTL vs. KAM (Jan 20th), 4-1 L at KAM (Feb 1st), 2-1 SOW (Feb 22nd), Mar 15that KAM, Mar 16th vs. KAM. The Cougars are 8-8-1-0 in their last 17 games at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops. 

STREAKING: Josh Maser has points in eight consecutive games (8-2-10) and has scored in seven of the last eight games. He has reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. He has four goals against the Blazers. Cole Moberg has points in four-straight games (1-4-5) and seven points in his last six games. Jack Sander has three points (1-2-3) in the last four games and Tyson Upper has assists in back-to-back games.

HEAD TO HEAD

COUGARS BLAZERS
RECORD 1-5-1-0 5-0-0-1
GF 11 25
GA 25 11
PP 5/29 (17.2%) 5/25 (20%)
PK 20/25 (80%) 24/29 (82.8%)
TOP SCORER Josh Maser 4-0-4 Zane Franklin 4-8-12

LINE UP: The Cougars are without forwards Ethan Browne (upper-body) and Ilijah Colina (personal). Based on today’s game day skate, it appears Taylor Gauthier gets the start in goal. In seven games against the Blazers, Gauthier has a .913 save percentage. The Blazers are missing Dylan Ferguson (lower-body), who’s listed as day-to-day on the WHL injury report.

COUGARS FOCUS: The most important thing for the Cougars is their intensity. Can they match the intensity, the fire that the Blazers will have? Arguably tonight is the biggest and most important game of the Blazers season. Can the Cougars rise to the occasion and play with some playoff intensity of their own?

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