The Trail Smoke Eaters didn’t waste any time dispatching the Prince George Spruce Kings in the Interior Division quarter final, despite some close matches.
Smoke Eaters defenceman Jameson Murray led the way, scoring two goals including the game winner in a 3-1 victory on Tuesday in Prince George for a four-game sweep of the defending BCHL champion.
“It was a really good series, winning 4-0, but it didn’t feel like that, though,” Smoke Eaters captain Philippe Lapointe told Prince George Now following the match. “I give a lot of credit to P.G., they worked their tail off, and they gave it their all every game. We’re happy in getting it done in four, but that’s a good team, and a lot of respect to them but we’re really happy to move on.”
Following a huge save by Spruce Kings goalie Carter Woodside off Lapointe on the doorstep, the Smokies worked the puck back to Murray who moved in and fired a quick shot shortside on Woodside for a 2-1 lead 1:54 into the third period.
The Smokies shut down the Spruce Kings after that allowing just three shots on goal in the final frame, to advance to the Interior Division semifinal.
Corey Cunningham put the Spruce Kings up 1-0 with just over two minutes to play in the opening period, as P.G. came out determined firing 13 shots at Smokies goalie Logan Terness in the first period.
The momentum swung in the second, as Lapointe notched his third of the playoffs on the power play. Kent Johnson sent a backhand pass to Diarmad DiMurro at the blue line, and the RIT commit slid a cross-ice pass to the Trail captain who promptly wired it over the glove of Woodside to tie it at 1-1 at 4:59 of the period.
“We weren’t generating a lot of shots on the power play, so the coach was saying, ‘Shot first mentality,’ and we were trying to find our looks,” said Lapointe. “I got a sweet pass from DiMurro and I was able to pick my spot and luckily it went in.”
Murray added an empty netter late in the game for the 3-1 final. The Kelowna native’s two-goal game surpasses his goal total for the season, but the defensive defenceman is a force on the Smokies blueline and a big reason Trail allowed just three goals in four games.
“He’s been great,” said Lapointe. “He’s more of a shutdown guy, but it’s awesome when a guy like that can get two goals for us. Throughout the year we’ve done a really good job of closing down leads at the end of the game, so we were happy with not giving anything up and playing that good defensive hockey in the last 15 minutes.”
Trail outshot the Spruce Kings 31-25 and were 1-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill.
Murray earned the first star of the game, Terness the second star, and P.G. forward Cunningham the third star.
The series win will more than likely set up a Smoke Eaters vs Salmon Arm Silverbacks Interior Division semifinal. The ‘Backs swept the Victoria Grizzlies on Tuesday, while the top seed Penticton Vees fell 2-1 to the eighth seed West Kelowna Warriors, but hold a commanding 3-1 series lead as of press time on Wednesday.
Barring a Warriors comeback, the #2 seed Smoke Eaters will play #3 Silverbacks, and #1 Penticton the winner of the Vernon Vipers #4 and Wenatchee Wild #5 series. The Vees played the Warriors, while Vernon, who led the series 2-1, faced Wenatchee on Wednesday night, but scores were unavailable at press time.