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Trail Smoke Eaters stay alive force Game 5 versus Vipers

BCHL: Jason Stefanek scores twice in Trail Smoke Eaters 3-2 win over Vernon in Game 4 of playoff

The Trail Smoke Eaters took the first big step in completing a comeback on Wednesday at the Trail Memorial Centre.

Smoke Eaters forward Jason Stefanek scored twice including the game winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Vernon Vipers in Game 4 of the BCHL playoff.

The Smoke Eaters were in must-win territory after falling behind 3-0 to Vernon in the best-of-7 Interior Conference quarterfinal.

Stefanek’s power play goal with 9:15 to play in the third period gave the Smoke Eaters a 3-0 lead, and then held off a determined Vipers comeback in the final minutes.

“We thought we deserved a better fate in Game 1 and in Game 3, but we had struggled playing 60 minutes and our mindset was we have to give up two or less to win games and it’s a good thing tonight came true, because I was preaching that,” said Smoke Eaters coach and GM Tim Fragle.

Trail product Judah Makway found Stefanek in the high slot, and the Dartmouth commit snapped a shot over the glove of Vipers goalie Ethan David.

The Trail victory sends the series back to Vernon for Game 5 on Friday.

Trail came out on fire in the first period, and carried the play outshooting Vernon 14-6. Jason Stefanek tallied his first of the series when he coralled the puck at the blue line, beat a defender, then wired a shot past David with six minutes left in the opening frame for a 1-0 lead.

With time winding down in the first, Smoke Eaters assistant captain Mathieu Cobetto-Roy worked the puck down low and sniped the corner with just 0.1 second left on the clock for a 2-0 lead.

The Vipers picked up the pace early in the second, but Trail goalie Ryan Parker was unbeatable. The Sooke product made three saves on point-blank attempts in the first two minutes, then sprawled to make a glove save and rob Vipers forward Hank Cleaves on a backdoor opportunity about five minutes in.

“Goaltending is a big part of playoffs, and last night and game 2 we hit just as many posts and we found a way to lose, so it kind of came back around for us tonight,” said Fragle. “We got a few bounces.”

Fragle says he will stick with the hot hand, and go with Parker in Game 5 in Vernon.

“He’s a gamer and so I look forward to giving him that chance. The game we won earlier in the year (in Vernon) he was in net, so hopefully he’ll draw on that.”

Twenty-eight seconds after Stefanek made it 3-0, Vipers forward Luke Bibby banked one off the Trail defender and in to cut the lead to 3-1. Bibby then made it 3-2 with 2:40 left in regulation.

The Smoke Eaters forecheck was resilient in the final minutes, and refused to let David leave the net, forcing him to make a diving save in the final minute.

“All three games have been tied going into the third, except for tonight, so we’ve had a chance in every game to close out, but we just haven’t been good until tonight,” said Fragle.

Trail outshot Vernon 41-28, and went 2-for-3 on the power play, and 2-for-2 on the PK.

Trail beat the Vipers in four of their five games in the regular season match up, and will look to continue their strong play in Vernon Friday.

“We are a streaky team,” added Fragle. “The last 12 games, we won three, lost three, won three, lost three. Now we are on that streak and we got one of the first three.

“We’ll just keep pushing to live another day.”

Game 5 goes at 7 p.m. at Kal Tire Place, and Game 6 is scheduled for Trail and the Cominco Arena on Saturday, April 13 at 7 p.m.

Trail is offering a shuttle bus to the Vernon game on Friday, contact the Smoke Eaters to reserve a seat.

Jim Bailey

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