For the second straight series, the Trail Smoke Eaters have fallen behind two-games-to-none in a best-of-seven playoff – so, they may have the Wenatchee Wild right where they want ‘em.
“As far as playoffs go, you’re never really in trouble until you lose a game at home,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Jessie Leung. “We know we need to win one in Wenatchee, but there is no panic for us. It’s a home series so-to-speak, and if we win the next two at home, we turn it into a best-of-three series.”
The Smoke Eaters fell 4-2 to the Wild on Saturday at the Town Toyota Centre in Wenatchee in the Interior Division final, following a 5-2 loss on Friday. Trail got off to the same start against the Penticton Vees in the semifinal, but stormed back with three straight wins and a Game 7 victory to take the series.
“We’re pretty proud of our road efforts,” said Leung. “When you look at it, it was two tight games (in Wenatchee), and at the end of the day, they’re two games where it was the mistakes that we made that gave them an opportunity they were able to score. So definitely some positives to draw from and definitely some adjustments to make.”
In Game 2, the Wild’s Sam Morton scored a shorthanded game-winning goal midway through the third period to break a 2-2 tie and keep Wenatchee undefeated at home in the playoffs.
Midway through the third period, the Smoke Eaters went on the power play when AJ Vanderbeck was called for hooking. But a minute into Trail’s extra-man advantage, Morton broke into the neutral zone, pausing to ice the puck, but saw Jasper Weatherby flying down the right side. He hit the Wild captain with a saucer pass and jumped up into a 2-on-1. Morton drove to the net and finished the return pass for a shorthanded goal and the game winner.
Trail’s power play in the playoffs cashes in at a very respectable 28 per-cent rate, however, the Smoke Eaters also allowed three shorthanded goals in the postseason.
“It’s something we certainly talk about, but again it’s not a panic situation. We’ll make adjustments when we review our film, and, practically, we’ll make some adjustments on how we want it to run.”
The teams played even hockey for the first two periods with the game tied 1-1 on a first-period marker by Wentachee’s Zak Galambos, and a late second period tally by Trail defenceman Seth Barton.
Weatherby put the Wild up 2-1 after deflecting a Vanderbeck shot over Smokies goalie Adam Marcoux 1:15 into the third period. But Trail came back and tied the game when Mack Byers rifled a low shot from the slot past Wild goalie Austin Park at 4:49.
Trail pulled Marcoux in the final two minutes for the extra attacker, but Weatherby scored his 10th of the playoffs into the empty net for the 4-2 final.
Wenatchee outshot Trail 28-17, with the Wild going 0-for-1 on the power play and Trail 0-for-2.
“As you’re dialling down through playoffs, every series is going to be tough, and again two games where you give up an empty netter, those are two close games that you get a bounce here, you get a bounce there, something goes right for you and it’s a different conversation altogether.”
In Game 1, the Wild scored four goals in the second period to pull out a 5-2 win.
Trail took a 1-0 first-period lead on an unassisted effort from Levi Glasman, but Wenatchee rallied in the second. Penticton native Nathan Iannone tucked a wrister past Smoke Eaters’ goalie glove side to get the Wild on the board two minutes into the period and Lucas Sowder and Slava Demin made it 3-1, before the Smokies Braeden Tuck cut the lead to one. Wenatchee’s Galambos scored at 3:55 to make it a 4-2 lead heading to three, and Vanderbeck completed the scoring into an empty net with three seconds remaining.
The Wild held a 34-20 advantage in shots, going 1-for-4 on the power play, while Trail was 0-for-1.
For Trail to win the series, stealing a game in Wenatchee is a necessity, but not an easy task. The Wild are 7-0 at home in the playoffs, and sported the best home record, 24-4-1-0, in the regular season. Still, the Smokies proved against the Vees that they are more than capable, after beating them twice at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
“For us, it’s not a time to panic, it’s not a time to lose our composure,” said Leung. “Just go about work, and be diligent about how we prepare and how we play, and let the results speak for themselves.”
The Smoke Eaters won 2-of-3 regular season games at home against the Wild, in notably divergent fashion – winning a 2-1 defensive gem on Jan. 3 and outscoring the Wild 7-5 in a Nov. 1 shootout.
“We play a bit differently in our barn,” said Leung. “And it plays to our advantage … We’ll be looking to be physical, to finish our checks … It’s an opportunity to really dial into our style of game, and for us to put Wenatchee in a situation that is uncomfortable. We have a crowd that’s right on top of you and that’s passionate.”
Game 3 of the Smoke Eaters and Wenatchee Wild series goes tonight at the Cominco Arena at 7 p.m. in Trail, with Game 4 at the same time on Wednesday.
Prince George also defeated Powell River 5-1 on Saturday for a 2-0 series lead in the Interior-Mainland Division final.
Smoke Signals: Trail played without two key forwards in Andre Ghantous and Tyler Ghirardosi in Game 2. Ghantous is expected to suit up for Game 3, but Ghirardosi is a question mark.