The Coquitlam Express were trying to make B.C. Hockey League history, while the Vernon Vipers were hoping to avoid making the record book Tuesday night at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre.
Captain Ryan Rosenthal scored 7:46 into overtime as the Express grounded the Vipers 3-2 Monday night before 1,170 fans. Coquitlam took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Fred Page Cup championship series into Game 4.
A fifth game, if necessary, would go Thursday night at Kal Tire Place in Vernon.
The Express, who won the BCHL and Royal Bank Cup titles as the Burnaby Express, with Kyle Turris, in 2006, have not won a Fred Page Cup in Coquitlam.
Vernon teams have reached the league playoff final 19 times, but have never been swept. The Vipers lost in five games to the Surrey Eagles, in 2005. Vernon has won a dozen playoff crowns.
Viper alternate captain Josh Bryan said the Vipers, who lost 4-3 in overtime Saturday night, were trying to remain calm heading into Game 4.
“We had a meeting at breakfast. The coaches told us that we can’t get stressed out. We just need to go back to our instincts and enjoy it. There is no point in putting pressure on ourselves four hours until game time.”
Rosenthal, a 6-foot-2 New Jersey power winger, forced the extra session when he shot from the right side wall and fooled Vernon goalie Austin Smith with 71 seconds left in regulation. Smith was fabulous in overtime and earned third star.
“I think everyone was expecting him to pass the puck. When he threw it on net, it caught everyone off guard, not just Smith,” said Bryan. “He has saved a lot of games for us this playoffs so we’re are not hanging this one on him at all.”
Said Rosenthal, who leads the Express with 14 playoff snipes: “It was a weird angle. I got a little step on the dee and I wasn’t sure if anybody was going to the net but I was hoping my shot would leave a rebound or go in.”
The Express found their groove in overtime and outshot the Snakes 12-3.
“Overtime was fast-paced,” said Bryan. “They carried some momentum from those late goals and kept it going. We couldn’t really get anything going offensively.”
Corey Mackin drew assists on both Rosenthal goals. Mackin grabbed his own rebound in overtime and fed Rosenthal near the crease paint. Brendan Lamont converted from defenceman Zach Hodder for Coquitlam`s other snipe, at 10:29 of the second period.
The Vipers outshot the Express 34-24 in regulation time and went up 8:15 into the first period when d-man Dylan Chanter moved up and beat Gordie Defiel. Tyler Povelofskie and Mason Blacklock drew assists.
Vernon went up 2-0 at 1:14 of the second period when Liam Coughlin took a nifty feed from Michael McNicholas and found an empty net, on the powerplay.
“We definitely outplayed them the first two periods,” said McNicholas. “We outshot them 28-12 in the first two periods. They got a few bounces but I still think we have been outplaying them most of the series. We just need to keep playing with confidence and see what happens.”
Each team received three minor penalties.
Coquitlam assistant coach Robert Boyd, who used to live in Vernon and Enderby back in the day, has seen Rosenthal find the net flying down the right wing in the past.
“He’s scored a ton of goals from there,” said Boyd. “He’s always trying to score high from there, but this time he put it six, eight inches stick side and it fooled him (Smith).”
Boyd said the Express celebrated the overtime glory but noted “we haven’t won anything yet.” He said the Express are not totally surprised to be leading the series.
“The teams are pretty evenly matched. It’s just one of those things where we could be down 3-0 as well. The coaching staff is a little concerned that it takes our team so long to get into the games.”
It marked the third straight game the Vipers grabbed an early two-goal lead.
“That was probably our best 60-minute game of the series,” added Bryan. “We definitely outplayed them in the first two periods. I thought we deserved enough to win, we just didn’t bury enough of our chances.”
Rosenthal, who used to have season tickets to the NHL Devils, and is a Dallas Cowboys’ fan, knows the fourth game is always the toughest to close.
“Everyone feels really good about how we’re playing, but we know Vernon’s not going to quit.”
He said Defiel, who starred for the Minnesota Wilderness in last year’s RBC, thrives on playoff hockey. Defiel has been brilliant in the finals.
“He’s been talking about the RBC all year,” said Rosenthal. “He’s in the gym all the time and he works really hard in practice. He’s calm back there. He knows if he makes some mistakes, we can score in bunches and we know if we make some mistakes, he can make some big saves.”
In Game 3 Saturday, the Vipers struck first again as Dexter Dancs simply threw the puck on net from below the left faceoff circle when it sneaked past Defiel. D-man Jared Wilson earned the assist.
The Vipers went up by two when Brendan Persley kept the puck on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush. Persley went short side over Defiel. T.J. Dumonceaux picked up the assist.
Shortly after assisting on the short-handed tally, Dumonceaux was busted for high-sticking. It was Coquitlam’s turn to go to work on special teams.
Canon Pieper scored on the man advantage, from Rosenthal and Marc Biega, 7:13 into the first.
The only goal in the second period came off the head of Dancs. Coughlin threw the puck into a pinball machine at the front of the net and it somehow found its way through. McNicholas registered the other assist.
“I feel like I haven’t changed my game at all. Coquitlam plays a different style of defence which opens up the ice for me,” said Dancs.
Mackin got his third goal of the series, from Adam Rockwood, 46 seconds into the third. Mackin returned the favor later in the period as he set up Rockwood for the equalizer.
Rockwood wasn’t done there. Two minutes into overtime, Rockwood won the game on an unassisted solo mission.
“The puck bounced over the d-man’s stick, then we took off on a rush. I just waited and it kind of took a lucky bounce to go in. It is definitely the most satisfying goal I have ever scored,” said Rockwood.
“I don’t know if anyone would have predicted us to win both games (in Vernon), it’s unreal,” said Express head coach Barry Wolff.