The Trail Smoke Eaters got stellar goaltending, consistent scoring and a timely awakening of its power play to return home with two of three wins from the B.C. coast.
Friday night, Adam Todd chalked up his first BCHL shutout stopping all 35 shots while Luke Sandler scored twice to lead the Smokies to a 4-0 win over the Nanaimo Clippers.
Saturday, Todd couldn’t repeat his performance against his former team, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, and despite another two-goal effort from Sandler, Trail was tripped up 5-4.
The glaring gap in that loss was the inability of the power play to convert on a five-minute major early in the third and a two-minute opportunity midway through the final frame.
However, it all came together Sunday afternoon in the finale of the trip in Langley.
Goaltender Lynn Stanwood made 45 saves, Scott Davidson scored for the fourth consecutive game and Braden Pears notched a power play goal with two minutes and 27 seconds to play in regulation time to lift Trail to a 4-3 win over the Langley Rivermen.
Grabbing four of six points on the weekend enabled the Smokies to stay within two points of the fourth and final playoff spot behind Salmon Arm, which holds four games in hand.
Regardless, the Smokies headed home with smiles after three excellent efforts.
Everything was working on Friday as Sandler scored the eventual winner four minutes into the game in Nanaimo.
That’s all the offence Todd needed as the 18-year-old tender kicked out 14 shots in the first period and a total of 29 after 20 minutes.
At the other end, the Smokies chased the Clippers starting goalie, Jayson Argue, when Davidson and Pears scored 19 seconds apart near the seven-minute mark of the middle frame.
With a 3-0 lead, Trail penalty killers helped preserve the shutout for Todd while Sandler iced things with his first shorthanded goal of the season with eight minutes to play.
The win not only provided a great start to the weekend but derailed the red-hot Clippers who were sailing along with six wins in its last seven games.
If the Smokies helped tighten up the Island Division by cooling off the Clippers, the team made it that much closer after letting the Alberni Valley Bulldogs off the hook in a 5-4 loss.
The Smokies outshot Alberni 41-26 but were chasing the Dogs’ tail most of the night.
Jesse Knowler spotted Trail an early lead but Alberni Valley held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes and made it 4-1 nine minutes into the second.
Nevertheless, the Smokies answered with their hottest hands of the trip when Davidson and Sandler scored two minutes apart to suddenly change the tone to a 4-3 game.
But Trail’s power play, which went o-fer in seven tries in its first two games of the trip, gave up a pivotal shorthanded goal to the Bulldogs with four minutes left in the second period to trail 5-3 with 20 minutes to play.
Trail coach Bill Birks sent out Stanwood to relieve Todd, who was going up against his former team.
The move sparked the Smokies as Sandler scored three minutes into the third to narrow the gap to 5-4. Then seconds later the Smokies were handed a five-minute power play after Jared Wilson was tagged for a blow to the head.
But Trail came up empty on the major chance and another power play opportunity five minutes later and failed to net the equalizer in 13 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes.
In Sunday’s final game of the trip, that lack of timely power play scoring was put to bed early as Knowler notched the man-advantage marker four minutes into the game to knot the score with Langley at 1-1.
The Rivermen staggered the Smokies with a goal just 74 seconds into the second period. But once again Trail got off the mat and returned fire with Davidson’s fourth goal in four games just two minutes later to knot the game at 2-2 after two periods.
Both teams came out shooting in the final period combining for 35 shots on goal with 18 of those headed at Stanwood.
He let one shot get past him, coming two minutes into third, which allowed the Rivermen to take a 3-2 lead.
It stayed that way until the midway mark when Adam Wheeldon netted the equalizer with his seventh of the season.
With three minutes to play and the scored tied 3-3, Langley was penalized for too many men on the ice.
It was an opportunity that the Smokies missed on Saturday in Alberni Valley but capitalized quickly on Sunday in Langley.
It took just 29 seconds before Pears put the puck in the Langley net and put team ahead to stay at 4-3.
Perhaps fittingly the penalty killing unit, which had killed 15 of 16 situations on the trip, were called on again and killed 99 seconds of one final Langley power play before time expired.
The Smokies closed out January with four wins and an overtime loss in 10 games.
The team opens February with home games against Salmon Arm on Feb. 5 and a rematch with Alberni Valley on Feb. 8.