Going into the final day of the B.C. Hockey League’s regular-season Sunday, the Vernon Vipers know only a few things:
1…They will not finish in third place in the Interior Division and have to play the Victoria Grizzlies in the opening round of the playoffs;
2…They will play either the Wenatchee Wild or the Salmon Arm Silverbacks;
3…They may not end up with home-ice advantage in Round 1.
The Vipers had two chances against the eighth-seeded West Kelowna Warriors on the final weekend to clinch third place and home-ice advantage and failed both times, as the Warriors swept the home-and-home series, beating Vernon 6-4 at Kal Tire Place Friday, and 6-5 in a shootout Saturday at Royal Lepage Place.
The Vipers lost four of five games against West Kelowna since Jan. 24.
Even with the single point Saturday, the Vipers (30-24-2-2) can’t pass the Wenatchee Wild (30-23-4-1), who picked up a point in their final game, a 4-3 overtime loss in Penticton (Wild led 3-0 after one period). The Vees swept the weekend twinbill at the South Okanagan Events Centre, beating Wenatchee 4-1 Friday.
The Silverbacks (29-23-4-1), who lost 5-1 to the Smoke Eaters in Trail Friday, can clinch third place with a win Sunday afternoon at home against the Merritt Centennials. The two points would tie the Gorillas with the Wild, but Salmon Arm wins the tiebreaker for taking the season series against Wenatchee (4-3).
If Salmon Arm loses in regulation time, overtime or a shootout, Wenatchee finishes third, the Vipers would be fourth and Salmon Arm fifth as the Vipers hold the tiebreaker against the Silverbacks (one more win). That would result in a Vipers-Silverbacks first-round playoff matchup, and the Wild would play Victoria.
The Vipers were trailing 3-2 Saturday entering the third period but rallied to take a 5-4 lead only to see Deegan Mofford tie the game at 18:13.
Ryan Upson beat Keegan Karki in the fifth round of the shootout for the winning goal for West Kelowna. Connor Marritt had a shootout goal for the Vipers, who got a hat trick in regulation time from Ben Helgeson. Matt Kowalski and Dawson Holt also scored for Vernon. Karki finished with 20 saves through 65 minutes while Riley Morgan made 42 stops for the Warriors, who will play the Vees in the first round of the playoffs.
The Trail Smoke Eaters will take on the defending champion Prince George Spruce Kings in Round 1.
The other two games on the final day of the regular season also have bearings on standings and playoff matchups.
The Nanaimo Clippers visit the Alberni Valley Bulldogs with the Clippers in position to clinch the Island Division with a victory, overtime/shootout loss or tie, and a first-round playoff matchup with the Bulldogs. Nanaimo is one point behind the Cowichan Valley Capitals but has one more victory. A Bulldogs win and they will play Cowichan while Nanaimo would take on the Powell River Kings.
The Langley Rivermen visit the Chilliwack Chiefs. If Chilliwack wins, they will move into second place in the Mainland Division and have home-ice advantage for their first-round playoff date with the Surrey Eagles. Langley will play the regular-season champion Coquitlam Express in the opening round.
SNAKE BITES: The Vipers invite fans to their Playoff Puck Drop Meet and Greet on Monday, Feb. 24, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Green Pub. Meet some players and have some good food as the team gets set for the first round of the playoffs, which begin Friday, Feb.28.