Two huge points Saturday have the Vernon Vipers one point away from a B.C. Hockey League playoff berth.
The Vipers’ stunning come-from-behind 3-2 double overtime win against the West Kelowna Warriors Saturday at Kal Tire Place leaves the Snakes needing a single point in their final four games to clinch a post-season spot.
“Every game is like a playoff game right now and we need all the points we can get,” said Vipers forward Dexter Dancs, who had a monster game Saturday, sending the game into overtime in the dying seconds, then setting up the game-winner.
“It would be nice to slide into second spot, and getting home ice for the first round would be awesome.”
The victory put the Vipers in third place with 66 points, four points behind the Warriors and Penticton Vees, though those two teams played Tuesday night in West Kelowna. The Vipers have a five-point cushion on the Merritt Centennials, who have four games remaining, and are 10 up on fifth-place Salmon Arm.
The SilverBacks, who visit the Vipers Friday night, have five games left.
The Warriors were up 2-1 and two minutes away from taking over sole possession of first place in the Interior Division Saturday in front of 1,916 fans at Kal Tire Place, including approximately 60 very loud and very vocal Warrior supporters.
But a tripping penalty to Warriors forward Carl Hesler at 18:57 gave the Vipers a late powerplay, and pulling goalie Austin Smith made it a two-man advantage.
Vernon kept the puck in the Warriors zone, and were rewarded with 12.7 seconds left when Dancs poked a puck underneath goalie Andy Desautels to send the game to overtime.
“The game plan was simple, get pucks to the net,” said Dancs. “We had six guys on the ice, they had four, we got the pucks to the net and I was lucky to hack one in. It felt pretty good.”
The Vipers dominated the two overtime periods, holding the Warriors without a shot. Desautels made two spectacular saves in the second overtime frame on Dancs and Brett Mulcahy seconds before Dancs tried a wraparound. The puck slid out to the slot where Vipers defenceman Riley Guenther wired a shot past Desautels at 3:34 for the win.
“This was a tough game and a tough one to lose, but all games are tough at this time of year,” said Warriors head coach Rylan Ferster, who praised the play of his goalie in his return after missing four games due to injury. “Andy was very good. He gave us a chance to win it.”
The Warriors, coming off an 8-5 home ice loss to the Victoria Grizzlies Friday, dominated the opening period, helped out by four Vernon minor penalties and a five-minute checking from behind and game misconduct call late in the first period to Vipers forward Liam Coughlin, who crunched Warriors d-man Braden Pears into the boards at the West Kelowna bench.
Pears suffered a cut but would return to the game, wearing a cage and a new uniform to replace his original sweater, which was bloodied.
Pears opened the scoring at the 7:03 mark on a powerplay, and Seb Lloyd upped the lead to 2-0 1:39 later, banging in a rebound past Smith.
The Vipers finally got on the board at the 12:43 mark of the middle frame when defenceman Kenny Citron sent forward Tyler Povolofskie in alone on Desautels with a beautiful stretch pass. Povoloskie went to the backhand and snuck the puck past Desautels to give the Vipers life.
Vernon also killed off a five-minute checking from behind/game misconduct penalty to forward Colton Sparrow late in the third period following a hit on Warriors defenceman Taki Pantziris, who did not return to the game.
West Kelowna outshot Vernon 39-37.
SNAKE BITES: Guenther was named the first star while Smith and Desautels were chosen second and third stars, respectively…The Warriors were missing six regulars. Scratched for the Vipers were forwards Mason Blacklock and Demico Hannoun, and goalie Danny Todosychuk. Zach Dyment was summoned from the North Okanagan Knights to serve as Smith’s backup…The Vipers close out their home schedule Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Vees. Vernon plays its final two games on the road in Trail and Merritt.