Cole Donhauser of the Chiefs shields the puck from Vernon Vipers defenceman Michael Young in BCHL play Sunday afternoon in Chilliwack. (Eric Welsh/Black Press)

Chilliwack Chiefs score late to beat Vernon Vipers

Matt Holmes netted the winner with 20.5 seconds on the clock as the Chiefs rallied for a 3-2 win.

Mathieu Caron stopped 40 shots and Matt Holmes scored a pair of goals as the Chilliwack Chiefs beat the Vernon Vipers 3-2 Sunday afternoon at Prospera Centre.

The Chiefs continue to be one of the biggest surprises in the BCHL, improving to 11-4-0-0, good for the best record in the 17-team league.

On the flipside, the struggling Vipers fell to 4-5-3-0, which leaves them in unfamiliar territory, seventh and last in the Interior division standings.

The teams were tied 1-1 through 20 minutes, with Vernon‘s Sebastian Streu opening the scoring at 8:18.

Curling away from a Chilliwack checker in the right faceoff circle, the Manitoba native rifled a shot from a step above the faceoff dot. Chiefs goalie Mathieu Caron had traffic skating through his goal mouth and didn’t see the puck until it was too late to stop it.

Caron’s crew drew even at 14:03.

Brett Willits started the play, pouncing on a turnover near his blue line and feeding the puck up the right wing to Holmes. The New York native made a power forward move, shielding the puck with his body and pulling it past the Viper defender on the backhand. Pulling the puck to the forehand as he arrived in the goal-mouth, Holmes snapped a five-hole shot that squeaked through the legs of Vernon goalie Max Palaga and inched across the goal-line.

The Vipers collected the only goal of the second period.

With just 34 seconds remaining in the middle frame, a Chilliwack defenceman got caught in the neutral zone, springing Vernon’s Colton Bilodeau on a two-on-one rush with linemate Teddy Woodling. Scooting down the left wing, Bilodeau dished the puck past a sprawling defender to Woodling, who beat Caron with a five-hole shot.

For half of a sleepy third period, it looked like the visitors would hold on to the lead, but a crucial mistake by the Vipers led to the tying goal.

Vernon got caught with too many men on the ice at 9:27, handing the Chiefs a two-minute power play.

Kevin Wall put a hot shot on net from the top of the right faceoff circle and Viper goalie Palaga let the rebound drop in the blue paint. Cole Donhauser and Skyler Brind’Amour waded into the goal-mouth, frantically whacking at the puck. It squirted out to the left where Harrison Blaisdell was waiting to pop it past Palaga for his team-leading ninth of the year.

The winning goal came with 20.5 seconds left, and it was a pretty one.

Catching the Vipers on a shaky line change, Kevin Wall came down the right wing on a two-on-one rush, with Holmes charging hard to the net.

Wall saucered a pass past Vernon D-man Mitch Andres to Holmes, who directed it past Palaga.

Vernon didn’t even have time left to pull their goalie, as Chilliwack cruised to the final whistle with the win.

The three stars were Caron (first), Palaga (second) and Wall (third).

The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Jacob Slipec.

Vernon hosts the Trail Smoke Eaters Wednesday night and entertains the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Saturday.

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