Viper forward Patrick McGillis catches Spruce Kings' netminder Kirk Thompson out of position as he buries a rebound to open the scoring in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night at Wesbild Centre. The Vipers hung on to win 5-4 in overtime.

Viper forward Patrick McGillis catches Spruce Kings' netminder Kirk Thompson out of position as he buries a rebound to open the scoring in B.C. Hockey League action Friday night at Wesbild Centre. The Vipers hung on to win 5-4 in overtime.

Snakes survive Spruce King scare

The Vernon Vipers would love a first-round bye in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs. The Prince George Spruce Kings just want to still be playing when the postseason begins.

Both teams got a little closer to their respective goals Friday night at Wesbild Centre as the Vipers shaded the Spruce Kings 5-4 in overtime before 1,734 fans.

John Knisley led Vernon with his eighth and ninth goals of the season, including the winner 1:45 into overtime, keeping the Vipers atop the Interior Conference at 29-10-4-8.

The top seven clubs from each conference make the playoffs. The top seed on each side will get a bye and then have home-ice advantage against the lowest-seeded team to emerge from the first round.

Knisley, a Pittsford, N.Y. native, hadn’t scored in 11 games (he recorded five assists), so Friday’s offensive outburst came as a bit of a relief for the talented play maker. He ended the game in OT with a gorgeous snapshot over netminder Kirk Thompson’s shoulder as he cut in from the wing on the rush.

“The last week in practice I’ve just been working on throwing pucks on net,” said Knisley, who set up Vernon’s first goal by picking up a loose puck off the side wall and firing a low shot on net. Thompson made a nice pad save, but Pat McGillis (11th goal) made no mistake with the rebound.

Less than a minute later, a slick give-and-go between Vernon’s Bryce Kakoske and Kyle Murphy in the corner set up David Robinson for his 26th goal. The Viper captain had a couple whacks at a loose puck before he buried it.

The Viper pressured continued as defenceman Malcolm Lyles wristed a bouncing point shot on Thompson (34 saves), and Knisley converted the rebound at 8:08.

The Spruce Kings managed just two shots on Vernon netminder Blake Voth (16 saves) in the first period, one of them was a long shoot-in. And just when it looked like the rout was on, the Vipers eased up in the second period and allowed Prince George back in the game.

In a flurry of activity in Vernon’s zone, call-up Alex Milhouse tested Voth with a quick shot from the faceoff dot and Trent Murdoch rang the rebound off the crossbar. The puck went right out to big Ben Woodley (6-foot-6, 230 pounds), who fired the first of his two goals into the open net 5:35 into the second frame.

Just over a minute later, Jujhar Khaira fed a nice centering feed to Dustin Beairsto (first goal) for a quick one-timer on Voth’s doorstep to pull the Spruce Kings within a goal.

Said Vipers’ assistant coach Jason Williamson: “Good start to the game. We thought it was going to be easy in the second period. We kind of took over again in the third, but then we let things get away from us.

“We came out with a heck of a game against Powell River (last weekend) and then have three sleepers here. It’s the wrong time of year to be doing that. We’re one point ahead of first place and we want to keep that.”

Both Beairsto and Woodley (second star), a London, Ont. product, came to the Spruce Kings from the AJHL Grande Prairie Storm in a deal at the Jan. 10 trade deadline.

Former Viper Todd Skirving, also a deadline acquisition, earned an assist on the second goal. The Thunder Bay native, has been getting all the minutes he can handle on a skeleton Spruce King roster that is often augmented with call-ups (Vernon’s Tye Sanford suited up for them Friday).

“I’m getting the opportunity to play on the first line, I’m getting PK time and PP time so it’s nice. I’m just looking at it as an opportunity to make the playoffs,” said the amiable Skirving.

“We’re kind of rebuilding here, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to give up.”

Skirving, 18, knows offence won’t come easy for Prince George, who traded away their top three scorers (RJay Berra, Justin Fillion and Nic DeSousa) at the deadline. Faiz Khan is the team’s top scorer with just 11 goals.

“We’re not a fancy hockey team. We’ve got to work hard for our goals and we’ve got to plug away at it,” he said.

The Sprucies, last in the Interior at 11-35-0-4, trail the Quesnel Millionaires (11-31-3-5) by four points for the final playoff spot. Head coach Dave Dupas, who had a stint behind the bench of the KIJHL North Okanagan Knights, believes a playoff berth is attainable.

“We want to string some wins together, put some points up and force those guys (Quesnel) to win some games,” he said. “We don’t quit and we’re getting some points for it.”

Later in the second period, Woodley checked Marcus Basara into the boards after a whistle. Despite a size mismatch, Viper rookie Colton Sparrow stepped in to take on the much larger Woodley. Not much happened as both players got caught up in a scrum.

Vernon emerged with a 5-on-3, but did nothing with it as they couldn’t get pucks on Thompson.

In the third period, Stevie Weinstein (fifth goal) rifled a top-corner point shot on a powerplay to restore Vernon’s two-goal lead at 6:51. Prince George rallied once again as Woodley, with his third goal in five games with the Sprucies, beat Voth blocker side from the slot.

16-year-old Stephen Ryan, with his first BCHL goal in 46 games, forced OT as he deflected Chase Golightly’s point shot with one minute remaining in the third period.

Trevor Fitzgerald and Golightly dropped the mitts in front of the penalty box earlier the period. Golightly earned a slight edge, but didn’t land much.

The Vipers ended their January schedule with a visit to Trail to play the Smoke Eaters at Cominco Arena Saturday night. They host Bill Bestwick’s Nanaimo Clippers Wednesday at Wesbild.

SNAKE BITES: Viper defenceman Adam Thompson and forward Mike Zalewski missed Friday’s game with concussions. Zalewski has missed the last five games.