Vipers victorious in vital game 5

Jared Wilson (left), Liam Coughlin and Kenny Citron celebrate Coughin
Jared Wilson (left), Liam Coughlin and Kenny Citron celebrate Coughin's goal Thursday night over the Vees in Penticton. The Vipers lead 3-2 in B.C. Interior Division finals.
— image credit: Emanuel Sequeira/Black Press

The Vernon Vipers edged the Penticton Vees 3-2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre Thursday night.

Game 6 in the B.C. Hockey League Interior Division finals goes tonight at Kal Tire Place with the Vipers leading the best-of-seven series 3-2.

The combo of Liam Coughlin and Michael McNicholas was vital for the Vipers.

Coughlin was the answer for the Vipers in front of a raucous crowd of 2,500, breaking a 2-2 tie 16:29 into the third from McNicholas.

The crowd of 2,513 were given a reason to stand and cheer as the Vees opened the scoring 7:17 into the first period on the powerplay. Erik Benoit kept his eye on the puck that bounced off the shoulder of Vipers' goalie Austin Smith back to the ice. Smith lost sight of the puck and Benoit tracked it and was able to bang it in. Vernon took their third too many men penalty of the series to hand the Vees the powerplay.

That lead lasted just 22 seconds as Coughlin set up McNicholas, who finished off a cross-crease pass and tapped it past Vees goalie Hunter Miska. The Vees took a 2-1 lead 3:35 into the second period when Steen Cooper pounced on a rebound and blasted it past Smith inside the slot. Christopher Rygus and Brad McLure drew assists.

The Vees were given a two-man advantage leading into the final five minutes of the second, but failed to capitalize. Less than three minutes after killing that advantage, Coughlin scored the 2-2 equalizer with 30 seconds remaining. Dexter Dancs and McNichlolas earned helpers.

McNicholas said killing off the two-man advantage gave them momentum.

"We built off that. We scored some big goals there at the end," said McNicholas. "In the third period, I thought we dominated."

"We knew they were going to have a push when we got up 2-1," said Vees' d-man Patrick Sexton. "Unfortunately, it ended up in them scoring a goal with less than a minute left in the second. We believe we're the better team. We're going to come out and prove it tomorrow night."

Coughlin netted the winner with under four minutes remaining, assisted by Nicholas.

"We cycled the puck a lot," said Coughlin. "If we cycle and grind them out hard, they will get tired. I think we did that well today and we have to do the same tomorrow. They've got some good skilled players. Don't give them space and time; that's our goal."

Added McNicholas: "I thought we battled pretty hard. We came out a little slow. They were all over us the first 10 minutes of the first. Once we got our legs under us ,we started playing pretty hard. We dominated in the third period."

Sexton said the Vees made crucial mistakes on all three Vernon goals.

"It's tough. We know we have to play a full 60 minutes," said Sexton. "We still have two games left. There's nobody inside our room that doesn't think we can't do this. This loss is already behind us."

Vernon is one win away from advancing to the three-team, round-robin to determine finalists for the Fred Page Cup.

In other Thursday night play, the Victoria Grizzlies shut out the Powell River Kings 3-0 and the Langley Rivermen iced the Coquitlam Express 5-2. Victoria and Coquitlam each hold 3-2 series leads.


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