It’s that time of year when players on the B.C. Hockey League playoff bubble turn into mathematicians.
The equation facing the Vernon Vipers is a challenging one as they make a final push to earn a postseason berth.
To have a realistic shot at overtaking the Chilliwack Chiefs for fourth place in the Interior Conference (and the final playoff spot), Vernon head coach Jason Williamson believes the 27-25-1-2 Vipers will have to win their five remaining regular-season games, and pray the 28-21-1-3 Chiefs go 3-4 in their final seven.
“We’ve got to win five games, which in my opinion is doable, but we need help,” said Williamson.
The Vipers have a full week to recover from a tumultuous ferry ride and a pair of weekend road losses on the coast. They fell 6-4 to the Cowichan Valley Capitals Friday night, and 4-2 to the Powell River Kings Saturday.
“We had to drug the boys up with Gravol on the way over from Comox,” said Williamson. “It (ferry) was close to not running. Underneath, where you pull on, you could barely get off the bus because it was rocking back and forth.”
The Vipers were without rookie forward Adam Tambellini, who missed the weekend trip with the flu. Injured forward Ben Gamache hasn’t played since he blocked a shot with his hand in a Feb. 17 game against the Vees.
Vernon is in West Kelowna Saturday night to take on Rylan Ferster’s Westside Warriors (20-27-2-7) at Royal LePage Place. They entertain the Prince George Spruce Kings (30-19-2-4) in a Sunday matinee (2 p.m.) at Wesbild Centre.
Their remaining regular-season tilts are against the Chiefs (Tuesday at Prospera Centre), followed by a home-and-home with the Salmon Arm SilverBacks (16-32-0-7).
“We’ve had some success against Westside this year, and we’ve got to go in there and get a road win, which is something we’ve struggled with,” said Williamson.
“Sunday, it’s a short turnover but PG (Prince George) is playing some road games too, and we’ve played PG well all year too.”
The Chiefs, who had two games in hand heading into their Tuesday-nighter against the host Warriors, wrap up their schedule with home games against Westside, Vernon and Trail Smoke Eaters (11-27-1-4), and road encounters with the Penticton Vees (49-3-0-2) and Coquitlam Express (32-18-2-2).
“We need some of those guys to win,” said Williamson.
Saturday night, first star Teagan Waugh pegged the Kings (35-15-2-2) to a two-goal lead with his 19th and 20th snipes of the season.
Vernon struck twice in the final 16 seconds of the second frame to equalize. Forward Aaron Hadley (15th) forced netminder Sean McGuire into mishandling the puck and was rewarded with an empty-netter for the first goal.
On the ensuing faceoff, centreman Darren Nowick got the puck deep, forced a Powell River defender to turn the puck over and fed Mike Zalewski for a buzzer-beater.
“We had been buzzing for 10 minutes before that,” said Williamson. “We had turned the tide and we were rewarded for it there.”
The Kings rebounded in the third period, with Daniel Schuler (15th) collecting the winner with a snapshot at 13:39, and Steven Schmidt (13th) added an insurance goal less than two minutes later.
“We outchanced them 17-12,” said Williamson. “2-2 game late in the third, and to be honest, Kirby (Halcrow, netminder) probably wants that third one back.
“You sense it after the game that they’re pretty down. They played hard in a place that’s tough to play in, with the travel and a pretty good team, and they come up short on the scoreboard.”
SNAKE BITES: Hadley has scored in five straight games and has amassed six goals and two helpers in that span…Penticton pushed its league-record win streak to 37 games with a pair of weekend wins. Travis St. Denis earned the winner in double overtime as the Vees squeaked by the host Merritt Centennials 2-1 Saturday night before 870 fans. Cents’ keeper Tyler Steel, a Vernon native, recorded 45 saves for second star…Penticton stuffed Prince George 4-1 Sunday afternoon before 2,300 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.