Trail Smoke Eaters stoke playoff hopes
Echoing the task facing them as the BCHL season winds down, the Trail Smoke Eaters bounced back from a 4-2 deficit to pull out a 5-4 double-overtime win against the Cowichan Valley Capitals Friday night at the Cominco Arena.
Trail's Valik Chichkin slipped the puck past a stretch-out Cowichan goalie two minutes into the three-on-three session for the crucial victory.
The rally, which included Luke Sandler's game-tying goal with nine minutes to play, not only saved the game for Trail but continued to fan the flames of its playoff hopes.
Coupled with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks' 2-1 loss to the Penticton Vees that same night, the Smokies moved to within two points of the final playoff spot with five games left on its schedule.
The Smokies host the Merritt Centennials on Wednesday then close out the season with four consecutive games against the division-leading Vees.
While the task of running the table appears daunting for Trail, Salmon Arm's task of fending off the Smokies is just as tough.
The Silverbacks', who have lost five straight games, play five of its final six games on the road. After hosting Vernon next weekend, Salmon Arm hits the road for a three-game Island swing followed by a two-game road trip ending in Prince George to close out the season.
With those scenarios hanging in the balance, Friday night's must-win game at the Cominco Arena proved to be a display of sharpshooting and perseverance.
Sandler led the way with two goals while Chichkin, with the game-winner, Scott Davidson and Adam Wheeldon added singles.
Not lost in the team effort were two-assist games from Jesse Knowler, Brent Baltus, Tyler Berkholtz
That total team offence produced 48 shots on goal including 27 in the first 40 minutes.
However, the Smokies trailed 4-2 until Sandler potted his first of the night with three minutes left the middle frame.
His quick snap shot from the slot proved too much for Cowichan goalie Patrick Spano.
It was a tough night for Spano and Trail's Adam Todd, who faced 22 shots, as the sharpshooters had their accuracy fine tuned.
The Capitals' Jarret Brown tucked a shot right under the cross bar to spot the visitors a 1-0 lead midway through the first.
But Davidson came back six minutes later with a laser beam of his own near the faceoff circle and beat Spano high on the stick side.
A cross-ice pass left Todd little chance of stopping the Capitals from taking a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the opening period.
Trail ground out its second goal when Wheeldon held his turf in front of the net and redirected a centring pass from Berkholtz to tie the game five minutes into the second period.
However, less than a minute later Cowichan's Jamie Waddington pulled the trigger from the slot and rifled the puck past Todd to regain the Caps' lead.
The visitors made it 4-2 at the 10-minute mark when Mikael Jung jammed the puck enough that it trickled through Todd's pads and just over the goal line.
As the shot clock spelled out, the Smokies kept firing pucks at the Cowichan net and were rewarded with Sandler's 21st goal of the season, that sent his team into the third down 4-3.
Trail pressed for the game-tying goal from the outset and outshot Cowichan 14-6 in the final 20 minutes.
Baltus foreshadowed things to come as Spano robbed him on another pinpoint shot from the game's attackers.
But seconds later, Baltus, Knowler and Sandler pressured the Cowichan goal with Sandler using his reach to lift the puck over Spano and knot the game at 4-4.
The first overtime session saw Chichkin with the best chance on a partial break but Spano won the first OT showdown between the two.
The second meeting came with two minutes and 11 seconds gone in the three-on-three session.
This time Chichkin jumped on a loose puck in front of the Cowichan net and went with a wide wrap around the stretched out leg of Spano to cap the comeback.
The Smokies get a few days to savour the win.
The team has four home games left in the regular season - Wednesday with Merritt, Penticton visits on Saturday, then, following a road game in Penticton on Mar. 1, the team hosts the Vees on March 2 and 10.