In a scenario that has played out many times this year, the Vipers lost a close game on the road in the third period. This time, the Powell River Kings struck twice in the last 20 minutes to earn a hard fought 4-2 victory.
Despite the outcome, Coach Jason Williamson said that he was proud of his team. “We got behind the 8-ball again, but the guys never gave up. And when we scored twice at the end of the second period, I thought we had all the momentum.”
“But the Kings scored the way we did the last time we were here and that was that.” He was referring to the playoff game on April 2 when David Robinson’s third period blast from the wing gave the Vipers a 1-0 win and a 2-0 lead in the league finals.
This time, Daniel Schuler’s shot from the right wing at 13:39 broke a 2-2 deadlock. He found space just inside Kirby Halcrow’s right post to spoil a sterling performance by the veteran goalie. The Schuler goal capped a series of exciting end to end rushes.
The Vipers pushed back but Steven Schmidt put the game away when he won a draw, got the puck back to the point, and then tipped Jordan Benton’s shot over Halcrow’s right arm at 15:07.
Make no mistake – this was a spirited, well-played game that both teams desperately wanted to win. The Vipers needed the two points to keep them in playoff contention, while the Kings vowed revenge for three straight league final defeats at the hands of the Vipers.
The game had playoff intensity right from the opening faceoff. It spilled into personal confrontations and offsetting roughing penalties, first between Ben Gamache and Chris Williams at 3:21 and then between Aaron Hadley and Steven Schmidt at 4:01. The main bout, however, came halfway through the period as Brendan MacDonald and Geoff Crisfield battled to a draw in a lengthy fist fight.
After that altercation, the game settled into a fast-paced, skillfully played affair that delighted the vuvuzela-wielding crowd of 1080 fans.
Evan Richardson, a speedster with more moves than a disco king, initiated the play that opened the scoring at 12:53 of the first period. He danced into the Viper zone, went behind the net and found Brandan Smith at the right point. Smith’s shot missed the net to the right and came out the other side where Teagan Waugh slammed it home.
Waugh scored the second Powell River goal as well, coming off the side wall on the power play and beating Halcrow with a quick shot to the top corner at 4:02 of the middle frame.
Despite a plethora of chances in the second period, the Vipers were held off the board until a pair of lightning strikes in the last 16 seconds of the period.
At 19:44, goalie Sean Maguire left his net to play the puck, but Aaron Hadley stole it and in one motion deposited it in the vacated net. Then, Darren Nowick won the ensuing draw back to Marc Hetnik and hustled to steal Hetnik’s shoot-in from a King defenceman. Nowick fed Mike Zalewski for a roof daddy with one second remaining in the period.
That 15-second burst might have deflated the Kings, but both teams came out strong in the third period. The shots and scoring chances were even for the period and indeed for the whole game.
The Vipers now face a daunting task to make the playoffs. With five games to play, they trail Chilliwack by three points and the Chiefs have two games in hand.