The Smokies' offense exploded in a rough-and-tumble second period, and Adam Todd made 12 saves in the third to lift Trail to a 5-3 home victory over Salmon Arm Tuesday.
Brent Baltus scored his first two goals since early December, one of which stood up as the game-winner as the Smoke Eaters earned two valuable points to move to within 4 of the SilverBacks.
It was Salmon Arm who opened the scoring on a nifty play just past the four-minute mark. Brayden Sherbinin fed a wide-open Steven Iacobellis from the left wing, enabling the Burnaby product to one-touch a shot past an outstretched Todd for his 8th goal of the year. The lead wouldn't last, as just under 10 minutes later the Smokies equalized when Mitch Foyle found a puck on his stick in the slot after Braeden Jones' point shot re-directed to him.
The second period was by far the most physical, and was punctuated by a thunderous check by Adam Wheeldon on SilverBacks defenseman Brendan Kennedy in the Salmon Arm corner six minutes in. Kennedy left the game with what looked to be a lower leg injury and did not return, while Wheeldon then scrapped SilverBacks forward Ryan Schwalbe.
The momentum swung in Trail's favour again just past the midway mark of the second period, as the home side took the lead through an Austin Adduono deflection.
Shane Poulsen put home a seeing-eye wrister just under two minutes later to give the Smokies a 3-1 lead, a goal which nearly sparked fisticuffs in front of SilverBacks netminder Adam Clark as both Tyler Berkholtz and Luke Sandler got mixed up with Salmon Arm's Anthony Croston and Shane Hanna, respectively.
Hanna would bring the visitors back to within one at 17:04, as he charged into a loose puck in the slot, slapping his 11th of the season into the top corner.
But again, Trail would find an answer, as in the dying seconds of the period Baltus collected a hovering puck in the Salmon Arm zone and beat Clark for his first goal on Cominco Arena ice since November 17th. At the same time, captain Garrett McMullen took exception to a high hit from Alex Gillies, and the pair squared off at centre ice as the rest of the Smokies were celebrating the goal. Trail went into the break full of energy and holding a 4-2 lead.
The SilverBacks would get a power-play in the opening minute of the third period, and capitalized early after Sherbinin poked a loose puck through Todd's legs for his second point of the night. The goal seemed to buoy the Salmon Arm attack, who peppered the Trail zone with pressure and shots on or near the goal, but could not find a way to solve Todd.
Baltus deposited an empty-netter in the dying moments to secure the win for Trail after Marley Keca cleared the puck out of the zone into open space down the right wing.
Todd made 31 saves to earn the victory, while Clark stopped 21 of 25 shots directed his way.
It certainly was far from a polished performance, but its one that Trail will take gladly. The home side didn't back down from physical play, and got timely goals through the roster, and big stops when they needed them most. The win is a step in the right direction, but if this team is to be playoff bound, there's still a heck of a lot more work to do between now and March 10th.
My Three Stars:
1. Adam Todd, Trail
2. Brayden Sherbinin, Salmon Arm
3. Brent Baltus, Trail
Up Next: the Smokies return to home ice Friday when the Alberni Valley Bulldogs pay a visit to Cominco Arena. Game time is 7:30 pm.