The Salmon Arm Silverbacks put the Trail Smoke Eaters playoff hopes in peril, winning both ends of a home-and-home series on the weekend.
A 4-3 loss to the Silverbacks in Salmon Arm on Friday, and a 4-1 setback on Saturday has left the Smoke Eaters 14 points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Interior division heading into the Christmas break. While it is cause for concern, Trail assistant coach Barry Zanier believes there is still time to rally.
“Going into those games it was like, ‘This is it, you need these games,’ but saying that I’ve seen funny things happen over the years. We need to go on a run and we need another team to have a bit of a fall, and that can happen. We’re definitely not throwing the towel in. Hopefully the guys come back re-energized and ready to go.”
In Saturday’s match at the Cominco Arena in Trail, Josh Blanchard scored what proved to be the winning goal on the power play with four minutes remaining in the second period. After defenceman Ryan Swanson was sent off for tripping, the Backs worked the puck down low and Blanchard walked out of the corner and slipped the puck past Trail goalie Brett Clark to give Salmon Arm a 2-0 lead.
Trail is without key forwards Dallas Calvin and Craig Martin, out with injury, as well as goaltender Adam Todd who is recovering from a blow to the head suffered last month against West Kelowna. Trail inserted Beaver Valley Nitehawk forward Ross Armour as an affiliate player.
“They (Martin and Calvin) are two of the top six guys who are out, so that forces guys to move up the line up that are maybe more comfortable in a different role, but they’re definitely key guys for us,” said Zanier. “I think in Adam’s case, he returned too soon and never really felt okay but knowing that we were in tough to win games, he tried but just couldn’t do it anymore.”
After a scoreless first period, Salmon Arm’s Joshua Laframboise was awarded a penalty shot 3:23 into the middle frame when Connor Wynne held him up on a breakaway. The Minnesota-Duluth commit skated in, fake then deked, trying to go between the legs of the Smokie goalie, but Clark shut the door to keep the game locked at zeroes.
Three minutes later, however, the Silverbacks scored shorthanded when a bad turnover at the blue line sent Colton Thibeau and Brandon Wagner in on a 2-on-0. Thibeau broke down the right side and passed cross crease to Wagner who fired into the open side.
“Shutting down the other team is key,” said Zanier. “At the start of the year, our goals against was pretty impressive then all of a sudden things started to go south. The main reason is our defensive play – not our defencemen but our team defense, and that’s the number one thing we have to change.”
Scott Davidson would get the Smoke Eaters within one, scoring on a power play with just over a minute to play in the period. After a mad scramble, the Trail captain notched his eighth goal of the season on a Harlan Orr centering pass from behind the net, wristing it by Zach Dyment in the Salmon Arm net to make it 2-1.
Trail had their chances in the third period but couldn’t draw even, and Carson Bolduc and Blanchard scored late goals for Salmon Arm to ice it and win their 13th game of the season. Trail held the edge on shots, 11-6 in the period and 35-24 in the game, but goaltender Dyment repelled the Smokies attack earning first star in the match.
Bolduc was named the game’s second star and Quinnipiac commit Davidson the third star for Trail.
In Friday’s match, the Smoke Eaters were chasing the Silverbacks all night but could not find the equalizer late in the game, falling 4-3 in Salmon Arm.
The Backs took a 3-1 lead in the second period on goals from Blanchard, Andrew Farny, and Ross Heidt, while Swanson replied for Trail. Cooper Leitch would get the Smokies within one late in the second, but a Taro Hirose goal 4:37 into the third restored the two-goal lead.
Orr would again draw the Smokies within one at 14:54, finishing a setup from Basilico, but Backs goalie Angus Redmond shut the door in the last five minutes to secure the win.
Salmon Arm outshot the Smokies 41-36 and went 1-for-2 on the power play while Trail was 2-for-3. Hirose and Blanchard were named the games first and second stars while Swanson picked up third-star honours for Trail.
The weekend losses put the Smokies eight points back of fifth place Salmon Arm in the Interior division and is Trail’s ninth loss in a row. The slump has seriously hurt the team’s chances for a post-season berth and Zanier says the coaching staff will likely review their systems and consider changes over the break.
“I think we need to tweak some things. We can’t just continue doing the same things . . . So maybe we need to change some systems and different focuses. For us to continue exactly what we’re doing makes no sense at all. Hopefully things will change a little bit in the New Year.”