The Trail Smoke Eaters kept their playoff hopes alive with a pair of dramatic wins on the weekend.
The Smokies skated to a 6-4 win over the Merritt Centennials at home on Friday, before making an inspired come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday in Salmon Arm.
Down 3-0 midway through the second period, the Smokies charged back to take a 4-3 lead then win it in overtime to move within one point of the Vernon Vipers and Merritt Centennial for the final playoff spot in the Interior division.
Smokies defenceman Bennett Morrison scored the winner at 1:08 of the first overtime period, breaking around the defenceman and beating the Backs goalie Angus Redmond for the team’s 22nd win of the season.
“Anytime you get down 3-0 on the road, especially in a place like Salmon Arm, it’s natural for some doubt to creep in,” Smokie coach Curtis Toneff said on the Smoke Eater website. “Our guys stuck with the process and it paid off. We are already looking forward to Tuesday.”
Chase Zieky and Cameron Trott gave Salmon Arm a 2-0 first period lead, and Josh Blanchard made it 3-0 6:23 in the second frame before Trail started the comeback.
Bentley University commit Jake Kauppila netted his 14th of the season at 10:04 of the middle frame converting a setup from Max Newton and Mitch Stapley to get Trail on the board. Smokie captain Evan MacEachern blasted a shot past Angus Redmond with 89 seconds left in the period to make it 3-2, and just 36 seconds later Kauppila tied it finishing a pass from Colorado College commit Nick Halloran.
Connor Brown-Maloski put the Smoke Eaters up 4-3 five minutes into the third period, but Salmon Arm’s Marcus Mitchell beat MacBurnie with 3:29 to play to force the extra frame, and set up Morrison’s heroics.
“Bailey (MacBurnie) made a huge save about halfway through the second that seemed to change our momentum,” said Toneff. “We got some puck luck that we maybe haven’t gotten in the past and went from there.”
MacBurnie stopped 40 shots on the night while Redmond blocked 32 in the Silverback net. The Silverbacks’ Mitchell was named the games first star, and Kauppila and Brown-Maloski took second and third star honours.
On Friday, the Smoke Eaters assistant captain Kauppila scored twice including the winning goal 4:29 into the third period to lead the Smokies to a crucial 6-4 win over the Centennials.
The Smokies led 3-1 at the end of the second period, on goals from Nolan Redler, Spencer McLean and Kauppila. Chase Bell brought Merritt within one 21 seconds into the third but goals from Cooper Sande, Kauppila, and Kienan Scott put the Smokies up 6-2. Goals from Chase Bell and Michael Faulkner rounded out the scoring for the Cents.
Trail was three points behind Merritt and five behind Vernon before the weekend games, but the two wins combined with a Vernon loss has brought Trail to within a point of both teams in the quest for the fourth and final playoff spot.
The Smoke Eaters host the Silverbacks tonight at 7:30 p.m. with all adult tickets going for just $5 with students and children admitted free. Trail will face Vernon on Saturday in what may be the playoff deciding game.