Five unanswered goals lifted the Vernon Vipers to a come-from-behind 6-3 win over the Merritt Centennials in B.C. Hockey League play Tuesday in the Nicola Valley.
Reilly Herbst turned aside 34 of 37 shots and the Vipers got goals from six different players as they improved to 27-21-2-1 on the year, one point back of the third-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Special teams were the difference in the period as the Cents found themselves on a 5-on-3 powerplay and Rylan Van Unen snapped a shot from the right circle past Herbst to make it 1-0. With the powerplay continuing 5-on-4, Ben Ward jumped on a puck in the slot to make it 2-0.
The Vipers killed off the remainder of the powerplay and generated a good chance of their own, but Ryan Winter made an outstanding save off of Ben Helgeson to keep it 2-0. The Vipers drew a penalty on the play and following a great save from Herbst, Connor Marritt went the other way and wired a wrister top corner to make it 2-1.
Late in the period Herbst again made a big save stopping Rylan Van Unen on a breakaway to keep the game 2-1 after one period.
The Vipers were forced into an early penalty kill in the middle frame and were able to effectively kill it off. The Cents increased their lead as Jerzy Orchard banked in a loose puck off the arm of Herbst to make it 3-1. Thirty seconds later, Max Bulawka potted home a rebound following a Marritt shot to make it 3-2.
After a successful penalty kill, Ryan Shostak was sprung on a breakaway and ripped a shot low to Winter’s blocker to tie the game up at 3-3. It was the Vipers turn on the powerplay minutes later and some nice passing set up Helgeson for a tap-in on the far post to give Vernon their first lead of the night.
Late in the period Hunter Donohoe walked into a slapper from the left circle that made its way through Winter to make it 5-3 for the Vipers after 40 minutes.
In the third, the Vipers tightened up defensively. They were able to add another midway through as a Nick Kent point shot got through a maze of bodies for his first BCHL goal to make it 6-3.
Vernon has seven games remaining. If the playoffs started this weekend, the Vipers would play the Wenatchee Wild. The fifth place teams in the Island Mainland Divisions, the Victoria Grizzlies and defending champion Prince George Spruce Kings, respectively, would slot into the Interior Division. Because of point totals, Victoria would be the sixth-place team, Prince George seventh and West Kelowna would be eighth.
The Centennials are 12 points back of the Warriors for the final playoff spot with each team having seven games left.
The Vipers return home Friday to face the Nanaimo Clippers (30-16—2-2) at 7 p.m. at Kal Tire Place.