Matthew B. Pohl, Pronghorn Athletics
LETHBRIDGE, ALTA — The Manitoba Bisons tallied two goals in ten seconds late in the second period, and the host Lethbridge Pronghorns were unable to recover, dropping the first of two weekend games by a score of 4-2.
Manitoba starting goaltender Lauren Taraschuk backstopped her team to their conference-leading 17th win thanks to a 15 save performance. Lethbridge starter Alicia Anderson made 30 saves in the loss.
The game started off with good chances from both teams at either end, but the defensive efforts from both squads outshone the offence in the early going. Anderson made the game's first big stop five minutes in on a partial break from a turnover in her own zone.
Both sides would spend a large amount of time in the neutral zone by stopping oncoming rushes before they enter the zone and clearing the puck into the opponent's zone. While deep in the Pronghorns end, the Bisons were able to get a number of quality shots on Anderson following miscommunication within the defence core, but the netminder would stand tall to keep the game tied.
Manitoba's Erin Kucheravy would see the sin bin with five minutes left in the frame and Lethbridge's Mattie Apperson would be called for slashing with less than a minute remaining to round out the first period. The Bisons would have the lead on the shot clock in a scoreless opening frame, leading 9-6.
Period two would start with the Pronghorns on the penalty-kill, but a superb defensive effort once again prevented any shots getting on a heavily-screened Anderson. Play would continue to be controlled by the Bisons following the expiry of Apperson's penalty.
A Jodi Gentile tripping minor would once again send the Bisons to the power play, and the visitors would continue to dominate the puck possession game. Manitoba would manage to get three quality chances in tight on Anderson, who made the saves needed to slow down the Bisons momentum.
Manitoba's dominance in the second frame, evident by a 7-1 second period shot lead, would temporarily come to an end, as Jenai Buchanan would take a cross-checking minor just inside the game's halfway point. Lethbridge would fail to get a shot on the Cole-guarded net during the man-advantage.
With less than three minutes remaining, the Bisons would score two goals in 10 seconds, capitalizing on a defensive breakdown in the Pronghorns zone. The first goal followed an excellent pair of saves by Anderson on a two-on-one opportunity, but the Bisons would regroup to find a screening Mekaela Fisher to pot the puck on a scrambling Anderson.
Almost immediately after winning the ensuing faceoff, Manitoba would quickly break into the Lethbridge zone and get the puck inside Anderson's crease. Another in-tight scramble would see the puck get behind Anderson once more, as Karissa Kirkup is credited with the Bisons second goal. That would end the period, as the visitors take a 2-0 scoring lead and a 24-12 shots advantage heading into the final frame.
The third period saw a slight shift in momentum, as the home side would fight to keep up with their guests early on in the frame. The forwards group would see multiple odd-man chances in the first half of the frame, and Anderson would continue to make saves for her side.
With nearly eight minutes remaining in the period, Lethbridge would find the strength to break the shutout bid for Cole, as Kyra Grieg's shot from the far side half-boards soars top-shelf above Cole's blocker, cutting the Bisons lead in half.
Just over two minutes later, the Bisons would respond with a goal of their own, as a shot from Fisher would rebound to Courtlyn Oswald, who would net the puck underneath Anderson to restore Manitoba's two-goal lead.
Lethbridge would pull Anderson from her net with over two minutes remaining, and following a time-out to draw up a play, Alli Borrow would bury the biscuit to cut the lead down to one goal, with 1:37 remaining in the frame.
However, the Bisons would get the final word, as Natasha Costenko scores on the empty-net to seal the game.
With the win, the Bisons improve to 15-4-2-2, solidifying their conference lead over the Alberta Pandas by four points, while the Pronghorns fall to 6-13-1-3 in their fight for the final playoff spot.
The Horns will finish off their weekend series against the Bisons on Saturday at the Nicholas Sheran Arena. Puck drops at 2:00 PM.
Photo by: MPP Photography