The Trail Smoke Eaters’ flashes of brilliance weren’t enough to make up for momentary breakdowns as the team dropped a pair of BCHL games on the weekend.
Friday night, Trail overcame a slow start and stayed close to the Prince George Spruce Kings until a pair of third-period power play goals three minutes apart lead the visiting Kings to a 5-2 victory at the Cominco Arena.
Saturday night in Salmon Arm, Trail captain Adam Wheeldon spotted his team a 2-0 lead after 39 minutes. However, the Salmon Arm Silverbacks scored in the final minute of the second period and twice in a three-minute span in the third period to rally for a 3-2 victory in the Shuswap city.
The loss in Salmon Arm was especially tough to swallow for the last-place Smokies who were looking to narrow the gap between themselves and the Silverbacks in the Interior Division standings.
Things looked great for the first 39 minutes of the game. Despite being outshot 24-19 after two periods, Trail got two goals from Wheeldon, a power play marker five minutes into the game and another goal near the midway point of the second period, while goaltender Dustin Nikkel was keeping the Salmon Arm team at bay.
But a late tripping penalty to defenceman Sean Davies opened the door for the league’s leading scorer to step up.
It took 36 seconds for Salmon Arm’s Landon Smith to notch his team’s first goal of the game. The goal, coming with 46 seconds left in the period was Smith’s 32nd point in 21 games, tops in the BCHL.
That added fuel to the Silverbacks’ comeback hopes and they responded by outshooting Trail 15-4 in the final 20 minutes. Although Nikkel was on top of his game, the barrage eventually resulted in back-to-back goals by Jeff Kennedy 200 seconds apart midway through the period to quickly vault Salmon Arm into the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Friday night, Prince George had the jump on Trail peppering Smokies netminder Riley Corbin with 14 shots in the first period and 43 on the night but Corbin was up to the challenge turning in several big saves throughout the game.
Meanwhile his teammates bounced back after a sluggish start to create their own chances but found just as much iron as they did netting.
After the Kings grabbed a 1-0 lead just five minutes into the game, Cody Bardock knotted the game with eight minutes left in the opening frame.
Two more King markers gave Prince George a 3-1 lead until Trail’s Jake Kauppila finished off a centering pass from Travis Stephens late in the second period to set up a third period with the Smokies down 3-2.
Prince George cranked up its offence in the final 20 minutes thanks, in part, to a double-minor high sticking penalty to Scott Davidson and a five-minute major for a hit to the head by Valik Chichkin.
That allowed the Kings to fire 17 shots on Corbin and resulted in a pair of power play goals, by Mitch Eden and Chad Staley, three minutes apart to give Prince George all the breathing room it needed.
Prince George outshot Trail 43-28 to hand the Smokies their first loss under new head coach Nick Deschenes.
The new Smokies coach will have plenty of time to instill any changes he is looking for over the next couple of weeks.
Trail will play four straight home games, including two more against Salmon Arm, over the next 19 days.