The Trail Smoke Eaters got a late lead from Kent Johnson and took a 3-1 series lead in their best-of-seven Interior Division Quarterfinal against the Merritt Centennials with a 3-2 victory in Game #4 on Wednesday night at the Trail Memorial Centre.
The power play was an effective weapon for the Smoke Eaters over the course of the regular season but the Centennials have found a way to effectively defend that as they opened the scoring shorthanded in Game #4. Payton Matsui was able to work the puck free from the defensive zone after the Smoke Eaters couldn’t handle it and broke in on a shorthanded break down the right side as his original shot was stopped by the right pad of Smoke Eaters goaltender Donovan Buskey with the rebound being banged in on the blocker side to give Merritt a 1-0 lead at the 8:30 mark of the opening frame.
Just over two minutes later, the Smoke Eaters rebounded and tied the game at the 10:53 mark of the period courtesy of a good net drive by Max Kryski. Tyler Ghirardosi started the play by blocking a shot and racing into the offensive zone on the right wing as he centered a pass from the right corner for Kryski going to the net as he whacked the puck in on the blocker side for his 1st goal of the series and a 1-1 tie.
The Centennials were able to find the back of the net early on in the 2nd period and came off a Smoke Eaters turnover to give Merritt their second lead of the game. Buskey went to play the puck behind his goal before being stripped as Matsui centered for Matthew Kopperud who had an open goal on the blocker side as beat Buskey to give Merritt a 2-1 advantage at the 2:15 mark of the 2nd period.
Trail continued their resilience in the middle stanza and were able to get the game knotted up a 2-2 courtesy of a long stretch pass from inside their own zone. Powell Connor sent a pass from below his goal line for Braeden Tuck at the Merritt blue line as he snuck behind the defence for a breakaway, going for his forehand to his backhand back again to the forehand, beating Centennials goaltender Austin Roden on the glove side for his 1st goal of the series and a 2-2 tie at the 9:18 mark of 2nd period.
The Smoke Eaters started the period with good jump and got a couple of very good chances throughout the 3rd period on Austin Roden and the Centennials but the Merritt netminder stood tall with a big stop on the blocker side with his shoulder from the right circle on Bryce Anderson to keep the game tied at 2-2.
Trail’s pressure broke through and took their first lead of the game at the 17:30 mark of the final period as Kent Johnson played the hero. Johnson collected the puck on the left wing and raced to the goal line as he went to the front of the net and chipped a backhand shot up and over the glove side of Roden for his 4th goal of the series and a 3-2 lead late in the 3rd period.
Trail defended the lead well and didn’t allow much in game’s final 2:30 as Merritt tried to will the puck past Buskey but the Smoke Eaters were able to hang on for the 3-2 victory in Game #4 and take a 3-1 series lead to Merritt on Friday night.
Donovan Buskey turned aside 24 of the 26 shots he faced in his 3rd win of the series while Austin Roden stopped 31 of the 34 shots thrown his way in his 3rd loss of the best-of-seven set.
FINAL SCORE: 3-2 Smoke Eaters
SHOTS ON GOAL: 34-26 Smoke Eaters
SMOKE EATERS PP: 0/3
SMOKE EATERS PK: 2/2
1) Kent Johnson (1-0-1)
2) Payton Matsui (1-1-2)
3) Max Kryski (1-0-1)
Fortis Energy Player of the Game: Tyler Ghirardosi (0-1-1)
The Smoke Eaters head back to the Nicola Valley for Game #5 of their best-of-seven Interior Division Quarterfinal with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out the series against the Merritt Centennials. Puck drop is slated for 7:00 PM from the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena with the game being broadcasted with a free audio stream at mixlr.com/trail-smoke-eaters as well as HockeyTV.com beginning at 6:45 PM with the Voice of the Smoke Eaters, Trevor Miller.