Saturday, February 16, 2013

Smoke Eaters 5 Capitals 4 (OT)

Valik Chichkin tucked a shot home 2:11 into 3-on-3 overtime as the Smokies rallied, again, to win 5-4 in overtime against a plucky Cowichan Valley squad Friday at Cominco Arena.

The Trail defenseman scored his fifth goal of the season, and second overtime winner, sliding the puck past Capitals netminder Patrick Spano to bring the Smokies back to within two points of the final Interior division playoff berth.

The Capitals opened the scoring midway through the first period, when defenseman Jarrett Brown snapped home a shot from the left circle just six seconds into a Cowichan Valley power-play, but Trail responded a handful of minutes later when Scott Davidson fired home his own picture-perfect snapper over Spano's right shoulder.

Cowichan Valley would take a 2-1 lead into the break though, through Garrett Skrbich. The Princeton commit took a cross-crease pass from Mikael Jung and tapped home his sixth goal since joining the Capitals at the January 10th deadline.

Trail would equalize a second time just shy of the five-minute mark in period two on a similar goal to Skrbich's. This time, Tyler Berkholtz spun away from a check in the right corner and fired a pass to Adam Wheeldon at the left post. The Nelson product tapped home his eighth of the season, but again, the level pegging was short-lived.

First, Jamie Waddington ripped home a shot into the top corner from the slot, then moments later, Jung worked his way out of the left-wing corner and outwaited Smokies netminder Adam Todd across the crease for his team-leading 13th goal of the season, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead, against the run of play, midway through regulation time.

It was up to Trail's former Capital to deliver an offensive punch, and that's just what Luke Sandler did. On a new-look line with Jesse Knowler and Brent Baltus, Sandler found space in the slot, beating Spano with a wrister before the second period was up to draw the score to 4-3.

Trail kept a steady presence throughout the game, but had trouble getting to Spano's rebounds all night, until Knowler and Sandler crashed the net midway through the third period. Off a Baltus shot, Sandler found the puck below the goalline, and quickly maneuvred the disk past the Capital keeper for his second of the game, and 22nd of the season. Trail fired 41 shots through 60 minutes, but could not find a fifth goal in regulation time.

Overtime was much of the same. Trail outshot the Capitals 7-2, and just about found the winner through Chichkin in four-on-four action when he was sprung in alone, but the lanky blueliner fired the puck over the crossbar. He would be more accurate in the 3-on-3 frame, accepting a pass from Berkholtz outside the crease, tapping the puck to his stick with his skate and beating Spano to send the 900-plus fans at Cominco Arena into a frenzy. It was Trail's 8th overtime goal of the season, and 8th victory when trailing after two periods during this campaign.

Trail needed the two points Friday, and remained persistent despite facing adversity. Credit HAS to go to the leaders on this team, including Berkholtz who remained a vocal presence on the Trail bench, and lit a fire under his teammates when his club was down two goals against an opponent that relished the role of playing spoiler. Combined with Salmon Arm's loss in Penticton, the win is a massive result for this club ahead of five tough games against the Centennials and Vees to close out the regular season. The Smokies have been quite lucky in getting favours from other teams in the league, and it was high time to help out their own cause in the standings as the push to the playoffs continues.

My Three Stars:
1. Luke Sandler, Trail
2. Mikael Jung, Cowichan Valley
3. Tyler Berkholtz, Trail

Up Next: the Smokies entertain the Merritt Centennials Wednesday, February 20th at Cominco. A win would draw Trail even on points with Salmon Arm, who are idle until their regular-season home finale next Friday night against the Vernon Vipers.

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