The Spokane Braves kept their tenuous playoff hopes alive by beating the Beaver Valley Nitehawks 5-4 in double overtime on Tuesday night at the B.V. Arena.
The Nitehawks deserved a better outcome, outshooting the Braves 52-33, but Spokane goalie Ben Waslaski was the difference, particularly in the two O.T. periods when he stymied Hawks shooters.
After frenzied back-and-forth action that included a pair of huge glove saves from both Nitehawks goalie Owen Sikkes and the Braves Waslaski, Spokane’s Trenton Sherman scored the winner with 1:51 remaining in the 3-on-3 overtime. With B.V. pressing, the Braves’ Elliot Plourde gained control of the puck deep in his own end, and lofted a pass to the breaking Sherman who snuck behind the Hawks d-man and flew in all alone, going forehand-backhand, off the post and in, for the Braves third win in its last four games.
“That was something else,” said Braves assistant coach Tom McNevin. “It’s good to stay alive, it feels great. The boys are fired up so it’s good to keep moving into Grand Forks.”
The run, which includes two wins over B.V. and one over Castlegar, has kept Spokane in the playoff picture. With two games remaining, the Braves trail the Grand Forks Border Bruins by just four points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Neil Murdoch Division, and one of those is against Grand Forks.
“It feels incredible, and hats off to our goalie – Ben stole this one for us,” said McNevin. “I felt we were outplayed in this one, the second period especially. But Ben stood in there and gave us a chance, and we finished it for him.”
Spokane’s Plourde began his four-assist night by setting up Dawson Tritt in the slot for a 1-0 Braves lead at 5:51 of the first. But B.V. tied it on the power play when an Aiden Jenner shot caromed off the back board and out front to Ross, who put on his batting glove and swatted it out of thin air and into the net at 4:26.
Kyle Donaldson, however, restored the lead at the 2:56 mark, breaking in on a 2-on-1 with Tritt and beating B.V. goalie Owen Sikkes glove side for a 2-1 lead heading into the second period.
B.V. struck back in the second, when Dylan Heppler took a feed from Jaxen Gemmell in the high slot, and wired a snap-shot past Waslaski to tie it at two at 18:09. Six minutes later Aidan Browell scored a power-play goal, putting the Hawks up 3-2 on a pretty backdoor pass from Damon Kramer. However, the lead was short-lived as Tritt notched his second of the night and 23rd of the season to tie it 13 seconds later. The Hawks fired 21 shots at Waslaski in the second that included a great glove save off a Ross breakaway late in the period, while Sikkes handled 11 in the B.V. crease.
Beaver Valley came out determined again in the third, but Waslaski thwarted a number of prime Nitehawk chances until forward Nolan Percival put the Hawks up 4-3 midway through the frame. Swanson carried the puck over the Braves blue line and sent a pass to the veteran Percival breaking down the right wing. The pass was late, so Percival took the puck off his back skate, kicked it to his stick and in one quick motion wired it top corner for his 10th goal of the season.
The goal deflated the Braves, but a charging call on Nitehawks AP Simon Nemethy with seven minutes remaining gave Spokane a late opportunity.
After Swanson just missed netting a shorthanded goal on a valiant individual effort, Spokane came right back with a flurry in front of the B.V. goal. Tyson Feist corralled the puck in the high slot and fired a shot off Sikkes’ shoulder that bounced behind the Hawks’ goalie and into the net to tie the game, 4-4, and force the extra frames.
“It was just insane and it felt good knowing we could rely on our goalie, and he was going to make some plays for us,” said McNevin. “And when we get a chance, we have guys that can go make plays for us too. So it feels good.”
Spokane will now play the Border Bruins in the Bruins’ final regular-season match in Grand Forks on Friday. Spokane then finishes up the season against the Rebels in Castlegar on Saturday. Both games are must-wins for the Braves, but with the way Waslaski has played, a playoff berth lies firmly within the realm of possibility.
“That rink’s tough to play in in Grand Forks, it’s small,” said McNevin. “One of our biggest strengths is our speed, guys like Paxton (Malone) can fly, and that Grand Forks rink takes it away. So, we’re really going to have to bear down, play some defence, and hopefully Ben can steal us another one if we need it.”
Despite the loss, it was a solid and entertaining performance by a shorthanded Nitehawks team still plagued by injury to forwards Morgan Peace and Christian Macasso, as well as defencemen Karsten Jang (out for season), Jake Yuris, and Kevan McBean.
Sikkes made 28 saves for the Hawks, while Braves goalie, Waslaski, stopped 48 shots. B.V. went 2-for-5 on the power play, while Spokane was 1-for-3. Percival had a goal and an assist, while Swanson counted two helpers for B.V. Tritt (2G, 2A) and Plourde (4A) each had four-point nights for the Braves.
B.V. will finish in third place in the Neil Murdoch Division and play the Rebels in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks’ final game of the regular season goes on Saturday when they host the Nelson Leafs at 7:30 p.m.