PHOTO: Wenatchee forwards Ean Somoza and Parker Murray (right) celebrate a Wild goal in a recent home game. Murray scored Wenatchee’s only goal Friday in a 3-1 loss to Cranbrook in the opening game of the 2023 playoffs. (Photo credit: Russ Alman/Digital Media Northwest)

By Austin Draude Wenatchee Wild Media Relations & Broadcast Manager

CRANBROOK, British Columbia – The opening game of the playoff run for the Wenatchee Wild was everything it was expected to be – a tightly-fought battle from start to finish, with hard-earned chances and both teams fighting to catch their second wind down the stretch.

For the Cranbrook Bucks, the breath at the end of the night on Friday was one of relief after scoring two goals in a 73-second span of the second period and staving off the Wild in the final 20 minutes for a 3-1 victory. The victory puts the Bucks ahead one game to none in their best-of-seven British Columbia Hockey League Interior Conference quarterfinal pairing.

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The penalty-killing units got their chance to shine in the first 20 minutes, with Cranbrook taking a 13-8 shots-on-goal edge in the opening stanza and each team wiping away a pair of power plays. The offenses came alive in the second period, starting with Cranbrook’s Carsyn Good, who took a pass from Kellan Hjartarson and wired a right-wing shot past Andy Vlaha just before the five-minute mark to put the Bucks in front.

Wenatchee answered nine minutes later on a rush into the Cranbrook zone, with Parker Murray catching a pass from Ean Somoza along the left-wing boards before tossing it past Nathan Airey to tie the game at 1-1. The Bucks took advantage of a pair of chances just moments later, with Cooper Boulanger’s turnaround throw from the right-wing circle beating Vlaha high to give the Bucks the lead with 4:52 remaining.

Donovan Frias held off a Wild defender just long enough to push a backhand chance off of Vlaha’s pads and forehand home the rebound, giving the Bucks a 3-1 advantage with 3:39 left in the period. Each team saw a potential goal washed out in the final period, first on a collision at the Cranbrook net, and then on a goaltender interference ruling in front of the Wenatchee cage.

“They played better than us tonight. We didn’t have enough guys tonight, that’s the unfortunate part,” said Wild head coach Chris Clark. “We definitely didn’t play anywhere near our best, but the good news is, even not playing our best, we were still in it until the end. We’ve got to come out with a little more jump tomorrow, a little more tenacity.”

The penalty-killing units combined to go a perfect 5-for-5 in the game, while Airey opened his postseason with a 29-save victory. Vlaha took the loss, making 30 saves of his own.

The teams continue their first-round set on Saturday evening with the second game of their series – the opening puck drop at Western Financial Place is scheduled for 6 p.m. Pacific time, with live coverage available on Newsradio 560 KPQ and BCHL TV.

Single-game tickets for Games 3 and 4 of the series in Wenatchee are now on sale along with playoff packages for the full Wild playoff run.  Find updated news and information on Wild hockey through the team’s website and social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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