The Vernon Vipers scored in the final minute and 12 seconds of the third period to beat the Trail Smoke Eaters in Game 3 of the Interior Conference semifinal on Tuesday.
The Vipers Jesse Lansdell banged in a rebound off a Jagger Williamson breakaway to put the Vipers up 4-3 with 72 seconds to play in regulation. The goal was Lansdell’s second of the game and fourth of the playoffs, and brought the Smoke Eaters’ six-game playoff win streak to an abrupt end.
The win was Vernon’s first in the best-of-seven series and as of Wednesday afternoon, trailed the Smoke Eaters 2-1 in the Interior semifinal. Game 4 was held on Wednesday night but the score was unavailable at press time. Either the Smokies will enjoy a 3-1 series lead, with the Vipers on the verge of elimination, or a Snakes’ win will even the series heading to Vernon for Game 5 Friday.
The Smoke Eaters led 2-1 after two periods thanks to two goals from rookie Kent Johnson. The Port Moody product opened the scoring 3:59 into the first period when he chipped in a loose puck at the side of the Vipers net for a 1-0 Trail lead.
The Vipers responded, when Trail goalie Donovan Buskey kicked out a point shot, but Lansdell was able to knock in the rebound at the 8:57 mark of the first.
Johnson put the Smoke Eaters up 2-1, when he jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone, broke down the left wing, faked, then went five-hole on Vernon goalie Aiden Porter for his sixth tally of the post-season.
Trail dominated the play in the second period, but Porter kept the Vipers in it, stopping Trevor Zins on the doorstep, Ghirardosi with the glove, and Hayden Rowan on a breakaway as Trail outshot Vernon 24-14 through 40 minutes.
But the Vipers battled back in the third.
Coleton Bilodeau chipped in a loose puck at the side of the net to tie the game at two 3:09 into the final frame. Twenty four seconds later, the Vipers’ Connor Marritt wired a shot by the blocker of the Trail goalie to give Vernon a 3-2 lead.
Both teams traded chances, and Smoke Eaters forward Carter Jones found the back of the Vipers net, beating Vernon goalie Aiden Porter glove side with 6:09 to play to tie the game at 3-3.
Buskey made several big saves down the stretch, but a defensive breakdown forced a turnover and Vernon forward Jagger Williamson broke in all alone on the Trail net only to be stoned by Buskey with the right pad. Lansdell somehow beat the Trail defenders to the puck and stuffed in the rebound for the Vipers victory.
The Smokies outshot the Vipers 33-30 with Trail going 1-for-3 on the power play and the Vipers 0-for-2. The Smoke Eaters will look for better results in Game 4 on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.
In other BCHL playoff action, the Cowichan Valley Capitals took a 2-1 series lead over the Wenatchee Wild with a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night in Duncan.
In Prince George, the Spruce Kings eliminated the Chilliwack Chiefs in four straight games with a 3-1 win at home, while, former Smoke Eaters Levi Glasman and Ethan Martini helped the Powell River Kings even their series 2-2 with the Victoria Grizzlies. Glasman scored the overtime goal in a 3-2 home win, while Martini added an assist on Ben Berard’s opening tally in the tightly contested match up.