The Trail Smoke Eaters suffered what was likely their most devastating loss of the season on Sunday, falling to the Powell River Kings 6-4 in their first home game in six matches.
Trail led 4-2 with less than six minutes to play in the game, when the Kings struck for three-goals in less than two minutes, then added an empty netter with one second remaining to extend the Smoke Eaters losing streak to six games, and drop them into fifth place in the Interior division.
“We took an unfortunate penalty,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Craig Clare. “We had opportunities to get it out, but we didn’t and it ends up in the back of our net and that changes the game. It makes it a one goal game, and we didn’t seem to have the composure to reset and take care of the last five minutes.”
Powell River’s Liam Lawson scored his 11th of the season, tipping in a Nick Nonis shot from the top of the circle to put the Kings up 5-4 with 4:07 to play in the match. With their 24th win, Powell River grabs sole possession of second place in the Island division.
“It was a huge character win for us,” said Kings assistant coach Brock Sawyer. “Obviously being down two and then battling back in the span of five minutes there, getting the lead and then sticking with it, it was just hard work.”
The Kings were foiled the previous night, giving up a two-goal lead to the Penticton Vees in a 5-3 loss. So for Sawyer, the comeback victory over Trail was that much sweeter, as it finished off a three-games-in-three-days road trip that saw the Kings also win in Surrey, 5-4, on Thursday.
“It’s crunch time now obviously, and we’re in a dogfight for second place and trying to reel in Nanaimo for first, but we’ll just keep moving forward and get better as we close up the season here.”
The latte comeback ruined a good effort from a Trail squad desperate for a victory. The Smokies jumped out to a 2-1 first-period lead on a pair of goals from Cooper Leitch with Nolan Redler assisting on both. But Kings’ forward Nick Halagian tied it before the period was out, as the Kings outshot Trail 14-10 in the period.
“I got two (goals) off some good bounces there, but it’s a team game and that just can’t happen,” said Smoke Eater assistant captain, Leitch, referring to the late collapse.
Trail’s Kienan Scott put Trail up with 1:35 left in the middle frame, taking a centring pass from Harlan Orr and wiring a shot glove-side on Stefan Wornig for his 22nd goal of the season to give Trail the 3-2 lead heading into the third, with Trail holding the edge in shots 25-24.
Trail made it 4-2 on a power play that saw Kale Howarth score on a one-timer from the hash marks after a pretty set up from Max Newton and Scott.
But a holding penalty to Trail’s Blaine Caton at 6:53 started the Kings’ comeback. On the ensuing power play, a mad scramble in front of the Trail net ended when Kings defenceman Adam Brubacher shovelled in the loose puck to make it 4-3. Less than one minute later Hunter Findlater tied it, jamming the puck by MacBurnie at the side of the net, to set up Lawson’s winner just 35 seconds later.
“Hopefully we can turn it around on home ice here,” said Leitch. “We had a couple of long road trips right after the break, and the legs were a little stiff there but we have to shake it off.”
Trail had their chances to extend its lead in the third but Wornig came up huge on a three-way passing play where he robbed Redler with a pad save at the side of the net, then Jeremy Lucchini rang a shot off the cross bar. Trail also scored what looked to be the tying goal with two minutes to play, but the official waved it off after whistling the play dead upon losing sight of the puck.
Powell River outshot Trail 45-32 on the night, with the Kings going 1-for-2 on the power play, and Trail 1-for-3.
The loss comes on the heels of a 9-4 drubbing to West Kelowna Warriors on Friday, and a 2-0 shutout loss to Prince George on Thursday, and leaves the Smokies two points back of Vernon in the Interior division.
“You have to wipe the slate clean,” said Clare. “We don’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves, but look at the big picture and the opportunity to get into a playoff spot and take care of business and that has to be our mindset, we have two big games and if we take care of those games we’re okay.”
Trail will look to end its streak when they host the Chilliwack Chiefs on Thursday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop at 7:30 p.m. Trail then has a pivotal game against the Vipers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Smoke Signals: Due to injury, the Smokies were also without the services of Kyle Star (lower body), assistant captain Jake Kauppila, and Ross Armour (concussions), and inserted AP Eamonn Miller of the KIJHL Nelson Leafs into the lineup.
The team is unsure when Armour, Kauppila, and Star will return to the line up.