The Trail Smoke Eaters avoided elimination and forced a Game-7 showdown with the Vernon Vipers on Monday.
Trail’s Mack Byers scored twice and veteran goalie Adam Marcoux returned to the crease and stopped 46 shots in a Smoke Eaters 5-2 victory over the Vipers at the Cominco Arena Saturday night.
In front of a capacity crowd of 2,400 fans, Kent Johnson netted the game winner at 15:59 of the second period to give the Smokies a 3-0 lead. Johnson tallied his seventh of the playoffs, firing in a rebound off a Tyler Ghirardosi shot that Vipers goalie Aiden Porter failed to handle.
After three straight wins by Vernon to take the series lead, the Smokies jumped out to a promising start in the first period, and let Marcoux do the rest. The Trail goalie faced 39 shots in the final two periods, as the Vipers tried to comeback on the Smokies. The 20-year-old Montreal native, got the start following a 5-2 loss to the Vipers on Wednesday. Marcoux finished that game and earned back the crease for Game 6, after an extended run in net by Donovan Buskey, that included a six-game playoff winning streak.
Hayden Rowan opened the scoring for the Smoke Eaters with 2:34 left in the first period. Spencer McLean flew down the left boards and centered to a streaking Rowan, who went top shelf on Porter for a 1-0 lead.
The Smokies pressure continued, and Diarmad DiMurro wired a shot by Porter, but it bounced off the post, and Mack Byers snuck behind the Vipers goalie to shovel in the rebound for a 2-0 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
The Vipers pushed back in the second, but not before the Smokies took a 3-0 lead on Johnson’s goal. Vernon forward Ben Sanderson got the Vipers on the board scoring his third of the postseason at the 17:24 mark. Sanderson found himself alone in front with Marcoux sprawling to stop two shots from the Vernon player, but Sanderson finally put it in on the third try to cut the Smokies lead to 3-1 heading into the third.
The Smokies have squandered leads in all three of the series losses versus the Vipers, but not on this night. Marcoux made several big stops to keep the Vipers from capitalizing, and as a result of the Vernon pressure they were caught up-ice on a number of quick transitions by the Smokies.
Braeden Tuck sent Owen Ozar in on a breakaway, and the Prince Albert native went high glove side for a 4-1 Trail lead at 12:45.
Byers then notched his fifth of the playoff, making a slick move around the defenceman then snapping it over the shoulder of Porter to make it 5-1 with just over five minutes to play.
Vernon’s Michael Young scored a late power-play goal for the Vipers on a point shot that sailed through traffic and by Marcoux for the 5-2 final.
The Vipers outshot the Smoke Eaters 48-29 and were 1-for-1 on the power play, while Trail went 0-for-3.
Byers earned the first-star nod, with Rowan and Ghirardosi taking second and third star honours.
Game 7 will go Monday night at Kal Tire Place in Vernon with the puck drop at 7 p.m.
In other BCHL action, the Powell River Kings also forced Game 7, staving off elimination with a 4-2 victory over the Victoria Grizzlies. The winner will face the Prince George Cougars who are idle after ending the Chilliwack Chiefs’ season in four straight games.
Wenatchee can end their series against the Cowichan Valley Capitals Sunday night, taking a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 in Duncan.