BCHL: Surging Trail Smoke Eaters down Vees in OT

Trail Smoke Eaters remain a playoff contender after winning over the Penticton Vees on Saturday.

The drama continued on Saturday as another gutsy effort from the Trail Smoke Eaters helped them stay in the playoff hunt with a thrilling overtime victory over Penticton at the Cominco Arena.

The Smokies beat the Interior division leading Penticton Vees 4-3 in the second OT to remain tied with Salmon Arm SilverBacks for the fourth and final playoff spot.

Garrett McMullen took a pass from Valik Chichkin and broke down the left side, firing a shot past the Vees’ netminder Nic Renyard at 1:12 of the 3-on-3 overtime period to launch the celebration.

McMullen counted his 19th goal of the season as the Smokies won its third in a row, and fifth game in it’s last seven, but are deadlocked with the SilverBacks with 50 points, after the Backs beat Vernon 3-2 on Friday.

Trail native Jake Lucchini opened the scoring for the Smokies as he was sent in all alone by Marley Keca. Renyard made the pad save but Lucchini deftly picked up his own rebound, circled the back of the net and jammed home the puck to make it 1-0.

The physical game was punctuated by hard hits and rough stuff after the whistle, but the first two periods stayed 1-0 thanks in large part to Trail goalie Adam Todd who turned aside 23 shots in the first two frames.

But the teams would find their scoring touch, erupting for five goals in the third. After Adam Wheeldon took a roughing penalty, the Vees Brock Balson would tie it finishing a play from former Smokie Sam Mellor. Mellor then set up Jordan McCallum to give Penticton a 2-1 lead midway through the third.

Trail didn’t quit, and the hockey gods eventually smiled on the orange and black. Braedon Jones ripped a dump-in around the glass that hit the stanchion and bounced into the open net, as the Vee goalie desperately tried to get back having exited the crease to intercept the puck behind the net.

The teams traded chances, but a Balson interference penalty gave the Smokies an opportunity, and Keca would make them pay, blasting a pass from Connor Collett past a sprawling Renyard with less than five minutes remaining in regulation to give the Smokies a 3-2 edge.

Penticton would get it back, however, and force overtime when Minnesota Wild draft pick Lou Nanne converted a perfect Mellor pass to him in the slot, and tapping it by a helpless Todd with 2:56 left on the clock, to make it 3-3 and send it to OT.

McMullen was named first star for his extra period marker and two point night, Lucchini second star and Keca third star.  Todd stopped 34 of 37 shots in getting his 10th win in a Smokies uniform.

Trail next plays a home-and-home starting in Penticton on Friday, and returning to the Cominco Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., while Salmon Arm undertakes a three-game road trip to the coast with games against Powell River, Alberni, and Coquitlam.

Trail will finish the regular season at home against the Vees on Mar. 10, while the Backs end their season on the road against Merritt and Prince George, Mar. 8-9.

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