The Trail Smoke Eaters threw everything they had at Wenatchee Wild goalie Austin Park in the third period, but they couldn’t find the equalizer falling 2-1 in Game 3 of the Interior Division final.
Wenatchee captain Jasper Weatherby netted the game winner midway through the second period when he took a pass from Lucas Sowder broke down the left wing, fought off two Trail defenders, and fired a quick, low shot shortside on Smokies goalie Adam Marcoux for a 2-1 Wild lead.
The goal was Weatherby’s 11th of the playoff, and league-leading 24th point. With the win, Wenatchee took a 3-0 series lead heading into Game 4 Wednesday, making it a must-win match up for the Smoke Eaters.
Three minutes into the first period Trail defenceman Kyle Chernenkoff was sent off for boarding, but Trail had the best chance on the Wenatchee power play when Kale Howarth walked in all alone and tried to beat Park with a deke between the legs, but the Wenatchee goalie got the stick down to deny the Trail forward.
With just over eight minutes to play in the first, Montrose native Spencer McLean broke in with Blaine Caton, and using Caton as a decoy, fired a low shot past Park for a 1-0 Trail lead.
The Wild fired back, and a quick transition caught the Smoke Eaters defenceman up ice, and AJ Vanderbeck drove to the net and deftly tipped in a perfect cross-ice pass from Zak Galambos to tie it with 2:53 left in the period.
Wenatchee carried momentum into the second period, and after Weatherby’s goal, Marcoux robbed Wild forward Josh Arnold on a breakaway, then foiled a 2-on-1 with a huge pad save off Weatherby. Trail came right back, as Ghantous made a slick toe drag and wired a shot off the blocker of Park. Moments later Howarth fired another shot from the hash mark that Park made a glove save on, then stymied McLean on a backhand in close.
The Wild played defensive hockey the rest of the way, and at one point near the end of the second period, refused to send in a forechecker, waiting in trap formation in the neutral zone for the Trail breakout.
The Wild held a 19-13 edge in shots through two periods, but Trail’s third period was its best in the third round of playoffs as they outshot the Wild 15-4 but could not beat Park.
Less than three minutes in, Howarth broke in all alone and put a backhand off the post, that bounced right to a trailing Ryan Murphy who couldn’t find the handle. Minutes later Park threw up the glove and robbed McLean on the doorstep at 11:26.
Trail continued to press but a penalty to Ross Armour with 8:34 to play momentarily stalled the momentum. The Smoke Eaters killed the penalty and began to hurl puck after puck at the Wenatchee goal, keeping 2,500 fans on the edge of their seats.
With just over six minutes to play, Howarth jumped on a rebound and went backhand-forehand but was stoned by the pad of the Wild goalie. Moments later Ross Armour walked out from the corner only to be repelled by Park, and as bodies flew, the Smokies defencemen fired desperately at the Wenatchee goal only to be blocked by the mass of humanity in front.
The best chance for the Smoke Eaters came with just over three minutes to play. Ghantous and Glasman skated in on a 2-on-1, with Ghantous saucering a perfect pass to Glasman, who fired the puck at the open net, but Park slid across and got a piece of it with his arm to deny the equalizer. A minute later, on a mad scramble in front, Blaine Caton slipped a rebound just past the far post. The Smokies pulled Marcoux in the final minute but time wound down and Wenatchee held on for the 2-1 final.
The Smoke Eaters outshot Wenatchee 28-23 and went 0-for-1 on the power play, Wenatchee was 0-for-2.
While coming back from an 0-3 deficit is an uphill climb, it’s not without precedent. The Victoria Grizzlies came back to win four straight against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the first round, and both Trail and Wenatchee battled back from 0-2 deficits in the semifinal to advance.
Four teams in the NHL have climbed back into contention after trailing three games to none. The Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Detroit Red Wings in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final, and the New York Islanders battled back against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 quarterfinals. The Philadelphia Flyers completed the feat against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final, and the L.A. Kings stormed back to upset the San Jose Sharks in seven on the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup title.
The Smokies may be in trouble but no one should count them out after the character they displayed in the Game 7 win over the Penticton Vees.
Game 4 of the Interior final goes tonight at 7 p.m. at the Cominco Arena.
In the Mainland-Island Divisions match up, Prince George defeated Powell River 5-4 to take a 3-1 series lead.