The Trail Smoke Eaters put the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on the playoff ropes on Tuesday with a thrilling 4-3 third-period comeback victory.
The Smoke Eaters fought back from a 3-1 deficit in the final frame to grab a 3-0 series lead thanks to former Silverbacks’ defenceman Carter Cochrane’s second goal of the series.
“It was another classic Trail comeback in the third period,” said Smoke Eater coach and GM Cam Keith. “We were a frustrated group through two periods, but we stayed positive to the original game plan, and decided to play 20 minutes of our best hockey.”
Andre Ghantous fed Spencer McLean in the slot and the Montrose native wired a shot at Nic Tallarico. The Silverbacks goalie kicked it out, and Cochrane, pinching in from the point, fired home the rebound with 3:16 remaining in regulation to complete the comeback.
“I think it was a special moment for him,” said Keith of Cochrane. “Salmon Arm had traded him at the deadline and his whole family was up from Kamloops and actually it was a big night for all the former Silverbacks.”
The Smoke Eaters played the Silverbacks in Game 4 on Wednesday night with a chance to close out the series, much like the Merritt Centennials did to the West Kelowna Warriors on Tuesday. The Centennials swept the reigning RBC Cup champions in four straight games with a 4-3 overtime win, and will face the top-seed Penticton Vees in the Interior Division semifinal.
Following a scoreless first period, the Smoke Eaters took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal from Kamloops native Connor Brown-Maloski. However, the Silverbacks took advantage of Trail’s undisciplined play in the second period as Elijah Barriga scored on the power play to tie it, and Josh Latta put the Gorillas out front on another extra-man tally at 13:43. Carson Bolduc gave the ‘Backs a 3-1 lead with just over seven minutes to play, despite Trail outshooting Salmon Arm 15-8 in the period.
“We ran into some penalty trouble, some frustrations at times, where guys retaliated on some of the Salmon Arm players and it kind of took the flow out of our game,” said Keith. “We couldn’t find our five-on-five game because we were constantly shorthanded. When that happens a lot of your top-two line guys have to kill penalties and that took a lot of energy out of our game.”
Josh Laframboise scored 37 seconds into the third period on a Smokies power play to make it a one-goal game, and Ross Armour tied it, scoring his third of the series with an assist to Brown-Maloski at 13:07. The Smokies stayed out of the penalty box in the third and it paid off as Cochrane’s winner sent a healthy contingent of Trail supporters into a frenzy.
“We went in after the second period and just made a commitment to staying disciplined, playing hard, and playing the right way,” said Keith. “Everyone bought in, we went at them hard and the results came.”
The former Silverbacks Brown-Maloski, Laframboise, and Cochrane continue to haunt their old team combining for five points on the night.
Trail outshot Salmon Arm 34-29 with goalie Linden Marshall getting the win, and went 2-for-4 on the power play while the Silverbacks were 2-for-7. First star went to Smokies captain Brown-Maloski, second star to the ‘Backs’ Bolduc, and third star to Trail’s Cochrane.
With a win Wednesday, the Smoke Eaters will go on to face the Vernon Vipers in the other Interior semifinal, however, in the event of a Salmon Arm victory, the series returns to Trail for a Game 5 tilt at the Cominco Arena on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.