The Trail Smoke Eaters are heading back to Penticton for the Interior Conference quarterfinal in must-win territory.
The #1 seeded Vees skated to a close 2-1 Game-4 victory over the 8th-seeded Smoke Eaters on Tuesday at the Trail Memorial Centre, following a Game 3 win by the same score on Monday.
“It’s tough,” Smoke Eaters assistant coach Dallas Calvin told Trail communications rep Ben Phillips after the game. “In these playoff series you have to get one of your games at home. A couple close 2-1 games and we come out on the losing side of both of them.
“It’s a tough feeling right now but we can’t dwell on it, we have to get ourselves recovered, rested up and ready to go to Penticton on Thursday, and try to get one there and bring ourselves back here.”
Penticton forward Brett Moravec scored the game winning goal, converting a pass from Luc Wilson for a 2-0 lead just two minutes into the final frame.
The win gives the Vees a 3-1 series lead as they return to Penticton on Thursday.
Penticton carried the play through the opening two periods, but led just 1-0 thanks to the play of Trail goalie Cole Tisdale who kept the Smoke Eaters relevant, as the Vees outshot the home team 28-14 through 40 minutes.
“Tisdale has been great all series, which is what we need,” said Calvin. “We know they are going to get some high shot volume on us in these games but as far as controlling what we can control, we’re not able to score on our chances, and that’s been the story of the series so far.”
Vees forward Josh Nadeau opened the scoring with 5:39 remaining in the second period, as he walked out of the corner and sniped a shot top shelf on Tisdale for a 1-0 lead.
After Moravec’s early goal in the third, Trail responded and after some high-end chances, Corey Cunningham skated in, split the defence, then beat Kaeden Lane glove side to make it 2-1 with 8:09 to play.
The Vees were able to weather a Smoke Eaters onslaught in the final minutes inlcuding a last minute scramble in front when the Vees were able to clear the puck down the ice and preserve the one goal lead.
Penticton outshot Trail 37-30, with both teams going 0-for-1 on the power play.
In Monday’s pivotal Game 3 , the teams traded chances in the first period with the Vees outshooting Trail 9-8.
Penticton struck first when Wilson wired a low shot past Tisdale for a 1-0 lead six seconds into the middle frame.
Vees forward Casey McDonald then tallied a shorthanded marker scoring what turned out to be the game winner at 12:24.
Trail came close in the opening minutes of the third period, when Smokies defenceman Ethan Warrener rang one off the crossbar, and two minutes later Cunningham’s shot hit the post.
The Smokies finally beat Lane, when forward Teddy Lagerback scored on a Coalson Wolford set up in front to make it 2-1 with 12:42 left on the clock.
Trail pressed but Penticton played rock-solid team defence and Lane made the saves when he had to for a 2-1 win.
“Our backs are against the wall, but the pressure is on them,” said Calvin. “We’re the eighth seed, we beat them and had a couple close one-goal games. We’re controlling a lot of the game five-on-five so the pressure’s not on us.
“We just have to go in and do what we can, keep playing how we have been, and hopefully we can bear down on a couple more of our chances, and get a good result, come back here and play in front of a good crowd here on Saturday night.”
Game 5 goes at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton on Thursday, April 7 with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
If necessary, the series returns to Trail for Game 6 on Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m.