It wasn’t an elimination game, but it sure felt like it.
The Penticton Vees, with a 2-1 series lead, entered Kal Tire Place Tuesday night looking to head home comfortably in the driver seat against the Vernon Vipers in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
The Vipers melted away back-to-back third period leads against the Vees in two previous games. Not this time as Vernon won 5-2 to level the series.
“It is a game we wanted real bad especially after losing last night being up 3-1,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson.
Brendan Persley struck first for the Vipers. Vernon cycled through a change in the offensive zone when Persley hopped over the bench, took an errant pass and stepped into a snap shot from the top of the left circle. The goal came at the 7:59 mark from Josh Bryan and Brett Mulcahy.
Vipers outshot the Vees 12-2 midway through the first. The aggressive play may have cost them as Mason Blacklock took a tripping penalty while on the forecheck, opening the door for the Vees.
Nicholas Pierog tied it up at 1-1 from Brett Beauvais and Jarod Hilderman on the man advantage.
Vees’ captain Brad McClure has been a lightning rod for productivity the entire series. The second period opened up with McClure getting the puck wide open in the left circle and unloading a howitzer on Vipers’ goalie Austin Smith. Smith was ready for it, swallowing the puck without allowing rebound.
Riley Alferd gave the Vees their first an only lead of the night before 1,775 fans.
A shot from Matt Serratore kicked out perfectly to a wide open Alferd positioned in the slot, making it 2-1 Vees.
The Vipers resorted back to what was successful for them in the opening frame, getting pucks to the net.
Defencemen Riley Guenther teed up a slapshot from the point that found its way to the back of the net. Bryan and Blacklock assisted on the goal at the 16:43 mark of the second.
Before the period expired the Vipers would take the lead once and for all. A Sedin-eske slap-pass from Dylan Chanter to Michael McNicholas put the Vipers up 3-2.
During the second intermission, an uncomfortable feeling crept across the crowd. The Vipers were about to take the Vees into the third period with a lead, something they have been unable to hold the past two games.
The Vipers kept the same game-plan from start to finish. They kept being the agressor.
Colton Sparrow added some insurance late in the third.
After grinding along the end boards and the corner, Sparrow walked out in front of the net and slid one between the legs of Vees’ goaltender Olivier Mantha.
Persley added an empty-netter to seal the deal and even up the series at 2-2.
Game 5 is set for Thursday night in Penticton with Game 6 coming back to Kal Tire Place Friday night.
See Friday’s Morning Star for more Viper coverage.