The Merritt Centennials look to even the series at 2-2 after tonight's game with the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The Cents showed some resilience in Game 3, but were unable to answer the bell quick enough in a game that quickly unraveled from a scoreless draw to a rout.
The first period was a tentative feeling out process instead of the hard nose pressure that was seen in Games 1 and 2. There was no end to end action, no quick counter-attacks, and no goals. The Cents did have a number of chances early, but once again Donovan Buskey stood tall and after being shelled for 4 goals in Game 1 he is becoming a big part of this series. Austin Roden also made a number of key saves in the first period stopping all ten he faced.
The second period was where things started to go downhill. The Smoke Eaters scored their first goal on a bit of goaltender interference in front, but after a conference the officials decided to let the goal stand. The 2nd goal came off a broken play, Mike Van Unen fearlessly blocked a shot, the puck came right back to Carter Jones and from a bad angle he was able to score on his own rebound. A couple minutes later, Kent Johnson came in on the left wing with a bit of room, and was able to pick the corner blocker side on Roden to make it 3-0 after the first 6 minutes of the second and end Roden's night. The Cents were put in the tough situation of throwing affiliate goaltender Jackson Glassford into the net, a player that hadn't seen a single second of BCHL action up to that point. He allowed one goal early on in his tenure, but seemed to settle down after that. Jackson Munro took the first penalty of the game that wasn't coincidental for a high stick, and short a man the Cents finally answered with a beautiful shorthanded breakaway from Brad Cocca to the backhand. The Smoke Eaters took themselves off the powerplay by taking 2 runs at Glassford within a minute, and went off for goaltender interference. The period ended with a 4-1 score.
The Cents came out with more jump in the third, and got an early goal from Daniel Tkac to give them a shot in the arm. Payton Matsui streaked down the right wing, pulled to his backhand and centered for Tkac who threw the puck past Buskey to make it 4-2 just 2 minutes into the third. Despite good pressure and repeated chances, the Cents couldn't muster any more offense in the period. There was a stretch of 9 minutes of play where the Cents couldn't get a whistle and despite the free flowing play, and the chances it created, it ate up too much of the clock. The Smoke Eaters would add an empty netter for the 5-2 victory.
The Cents now trail 2-1 in the best of seven series, and one of the league's best offenses has been held to 8 goals over 3 games. The Smoke Eaters have scored the most goals in the Interior Division bracket of the playoffs, and have the best goal differential of plus 4. Every other series is either even, or plus or minus 1. The first shift after a goal is so important throughout the year, but it's magnified in the playoffs. The Cents need to be able to quickly seize momentum back, and answer with a goal of their own after a Smoke Eaters goal. They can't afford to allow 2, let alone 4 goals unanswered. Goaltending needs to bounce back, and the Cents could be helped out immensely if for the first time in the series they could score the first goal of the game.
History shows that this season the Cents have only lost 3 games in a row once, and that loss came in overtime. They'll need to show resilience, play a little more physical, and play with the confidence we're used to seeing from the Cents.
Matt Kopperud continues to lead the charge for the Centennials in the playoffs with 3 goals and 1 assist, Nick Granowicz has a goal and a helper, and Payton Matsui has set up two goals.
The Smoke Eaters have gotten big games from Tyler Ghirardosi who has 2 goals and 4 assists, Kent Johnson has 3 goals and an assist, and Mack Byers has 2 goals and 2 assists.
The special teams battle becomes all the more crucial in the playoffs with the referees hesitant to call anything that isn't blatantly a penalty.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 33.3% (4th) Trail - 75% (11th)
Cents - 25% (8th) Cents - 66.7% (13th)
The goaltending battle sees the Cents between a rock and a hard place. Austin Roden is in need of a bounce back, and the Cents don't really have anyone else to turn to. Vincent Duplessis is still recovering from injury, and AP Jackson Glassford is an unproven commodity. Roden has been the teams rock all season, and will need to prove why he got a late commitment from Nebraska - Omaha. He's now 1-2 with a .868 SV% ad a 4.11 GAA. Donovan Buskey has stolen the starters position for now and is 2-1 with a .929 SV% and a 2.67 GAA.
Assistant Coach Brandon Shaw says that he is feeling more confident about the group after game 3 than game 2.
"I can see the resolve in the team, I can see the heart, and I can see the effort. We just need to put it all together for Game 4."
The Cents need to use the confidence they've had all season to pull out a series tie tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Q101.1FM and Q101.ca with Jared Thomas.
Catch a watch party in Merritt at the Grand Pub and Grill.