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Koper scores in overtime as Chiefs edge Bulls 5-4 at Memorial Cup @NHLdotcom

KITCHENER, Ont. - Early three-goal leads haven't meant comfortable wins at the 2008 MasterCard Memorial Cup.

For the second straight game to start this year's Canadian Hockey League championship, the team up 3-0 after the first period has needed overtime to close out the victory.

Levko Koper was the overtime hero for the Spokane Chiefs on Saturday in a 5-4 win over Belleville Bulls.

The host Kitchener Rangers were up by three goals after 20 minutes in the tournament opener the previous night, but it took Justin Azevedo's goal in extra time to clinch a 6-5 win against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Gatineau Olympiques.

"I've been here two days and seen two three-goal leads evaporate. It's hard on the heart," said relieved Spokane head coach Bill Peters.

The Rangers, also the Ontario Hockey League champions, take on the Western Hockey League's Chiefs on Sunday in a clash of the unbeaten teams.

The winner can secure at least a berth in Friday's semifinal.

Gatineau and Belleville meet Monday in a meeting of winless teams.

The club with the best record at the conclusion of the round robin gets a bye to Sunday's final, while the second-and third-place teams meet in the semifinal.

Koper was moving into the high slot in front of Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy when a rebound from a Justin McCrae shot deflected out to him. The 17-year-old from Edmonton made the most of his good fortune with the winner at 4:46 of the fourth period.

"I was in the right place at the right time and caught a five-hole," said an elated Koper. "I've never had anything like this goal."

Carolina Hurricanes prospect Drayson Bowman paced the Chiefs with a hat trick and an assist. Mitch Wahl got a goal and captain Chris Bruton had three assists.

Goaltender Dustin Tokarski, ranked No. 9 among North American goaltenders by Central Scouting for this year's NHL draft, made 28 saves for the win.

Spokane pelted Murphy with 54 shots and the OHL's goaltender of the year gave the Bulls a chance to win as they scored four unanswered goals to temporarily take the lead early in the third.

Cory Tanaka scored twice on his 20th birthday for the Bulls in front of a pro-Belleville crowd of 6,624 at Memorial Auditorium.

Florida Panthers prospect Shawn Matthias contributed a goal, Los Angeles Kings draft pick Bryan Cameron had a goal and an assist and Adam Perry, the younger brother of Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry, had two assists.

Spokane was more rested than Belleville after completing a sweep of Lethbridge in the WHL final May 7. The Bulls lost Game 7 of the OHL final to Kitchener on Monday.

Spokane isn't offensively explosive, but they're opportunistic. Their quick transition game allows them to score off the opposition's mistakes.

Belleville couldn't handle Spokane's tight-checking style in the first period and repeatedly coughed up the puck, which gave Spokane a three-goal lead and a 20-4 advantage in shots after 20 minutes.

"I think we counted 11 or 12 turnovers in the first period and that's too many for an entire game, let alone one period," Belleville head coach George Burnett said.

Belleville got their game together in the second period and scored three times to tie it up. Tanaka's second goal of the game early in the third gave the Bulls the lead for the first time in the game.

But Spokane kept the pressure on Murphy and Bowman's third of the game with less than three minutes left in regulation meant overtime again. The Chiefs outshot the Bulls 19-8 in the third.

"You look at our defence and to a man we weren't strong," Burnett said. "We left Murph high and dry on too many occasions and that's going to have to improve quickly."

Drayson's third goal was a wrist shot top shelf at 17:04. Murphy had tried to smother the puck, but lost control of it to give Bowman the top of the net as a target.

The winger from Littleton, Colo., was a third-round pick (72nd overall) by the Hurricanes last year and scored two of Spokane's three goals in the opening period.

Peters can't understand why USA Hockey did not invite his star winger to play for the U.S. at the world junior championship this year as an 18-year-old.

"I think he would at 19," Peters said. "I don't know what they're waiting for him to do in order to get that opportunity."

It was the second disheartening loss in a row for Belleville at the Auditorium. They'd trailed Kitchener 3-0 in the OHL final series and 4-1 in Game 4, but won that game in overtime and the next two to force Game 7 which they lost.

The 49 shots they gave up in Game 7 and the 54 against Saturday is a lot for even the OHL's top goalie.

"We're playing for the Memorial Cup here and it's one of the hardest trophies to win and the pace of play is going to be a lot higher," Matthias said. "We can't go in thinking it's a regular-season game."

Only five minor penalties were called in the game and the first one wasn't until 12:31 of the second period.

Belleville scored its third goal of the game four seconds after a power-play expired and its second came with a man advantage.

Notes: Matthias played just his second game of the post-season following a bout of mononucleosis. He scored his first two NHL goals Jan. 19 during a short call-up by the Panthers . . . Olympiques defenceman Hubert Labrie is said to be day-to-day after suffering an apparent knee injury Friday against Kitchener.

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