The Merritt Centennials have their backs against the wall trailing 3-1 in the best of seven series as they look to stay alive against the Trail Smoke Eaters tonight.
The Merritt Centennials had arguably their best effort of the post season, but when the game looked bound for OT the Smoke Eaters pulled out a late goal to make it 3-2. For the first time in the series the Cents scored the opening goal, and once again their first goal came shorthanded. After Joey Berkopec went off for hooking, Brady Ziemer sprung fellow Minnesotan Payton Matsui in on a break away. Matsui got a shot off the pad, and did well not to over skate the puck or the net, finding his own rebound to make it 1-0, but Trail answered just under 3 minutes later with Kryski scoring his first of the playoffs to tie the game at 1.
In the second period the Cents were the first to the scoresheet again, and once again it was Payton Matsui figuring into the offense. After a stretch pass was blocked at center, the Centennials threw the puck back in and Buskey went behind his net to play. Matsui picked his pocket and found Matt Kopperud out front who scored his 4th goal of the series to give the Cents the 2-1 edge. However, the Smoke Eaters didn’t give up on the stretch pass, and midway through the period Connor found Tuck up the middle of the ice, and he was sprung for a breakaway. Tuck took a page out of Kent Johnson’s book and faked backhand until the final second bringing it forehand and in past the pad of Roden to tie the game.
The final frame saw both teams have chances to take the lead, but both goalies stood on their heads. Roden a little more so making big saves in tight and from distance. With the Cents pushing late in the third and hemming the puck in the Smokies zone, Trevor Zins in desperation got the puck up to Johnson. Johnson skated up the left wing, drove wide on Jaydon Fetter, dipped below the goal line and back out front to the backhand and went top shelf, glove on Roden for the dagger with just 2:30 to play for a 3-2 loss. Austin Roden turned in a much better effort throughout the game, giving the Cents the opportunity to win by making a couple key saves throughout the game.
The Cents now turn to a make or break Game 5 back at home where they were the 4th best home team during the regular season. Trail was able to steal Game 2, but the Cents did not turn in a good effort in that game. Now with their backs against the wall it's time to do or die. The Cents need to take what's given by the Smoke Eaters defense instead of trying to force plays that aren't there. Hunt for rebounds against Buskey, look to capitalize on a broken play as the Smokies have been collapsing to the net, and make sure your passes are going tape to tape or chip it down deep. No look back passes and dangling into sticks have been the undoing of many a promising Centennials rush. It's time to play simple. It's time to play hard. Unfortunately, that has been the recipe for the Smoke Eaters success in the series - the Cents just need to do it better.
The Cents have been led by Matt Kopperud who has 4 goals and 1 assist in the series. Payton Matsui has used his tenacity to maximum effectiveness scoring a goal and setting up 3 others. Brendan Schneider has had a hand in 3 goals, but the Cents need more from their top line of Cocca, Granowicz and Gosselin.
The Smoke Eaters are getting solid efforts from Tyler Ghirardosi who has 2 goals and 5 assists, rookie Kent Johnson has scored in every game this series and has 2 GWG to go along with an assist. Mack Byers had two goals in game 2 and has added 2 helpers.
The Cents have gotten 2 shorthanded goals in the past 2 games, but still need more from their special teams.
Powerplay: Penalty Kill:
Trail - 22.2% (7th) Trail - 80% (8th)
Cents - 20% (9th) Cents - 77.8% (10th)
The Cents got a better performance from Austin Roden in Game 4, but with the season on the line they need an absolute game stealing effort. Roden is 1-3 with a .882 SV% and a 3.79 GAA. Donovan Buskey is doing his best to hang on to the starter's role with Adam Marcoux itching to get back in the crease and is 3-1 with a .928 SV% and a 2.50 GAA.
Head Coach Joe Martin feels the Cents are just a bounce away from bouncing back in this series.
"The effort is definitely there, we just need some better puck luck and some better decisions with the puck and we can be right back in this."
The Cents will look for a strong push to ensure the season lives to see another day.
Puck Drop 7pm. Pre-Game 6:45 on Hockey TV and Q101.1FM with Jared Thomas.
Pick up your tickets at the Marketing Office from 10-3, or at the NVMA from 3pm - puck drop!