VERNON - With their season on the line, the Penticton Vees came up with one of their best performances of the playoffs, shutting out the Vernon Vipers 2-0 in game six of the Interior Division Final.
The win evens the series 3-3 and forces a seventh a deciding game Saturday night back at the SOEC.
Scoring first hasn’t bode well in the series, as coming into tonight, the team that had scored first has lost four of the first five games. The Vees bucked that trend, as Jarrod Hilderman picked a perfect time to score his first career playoff goal.
Erik Benoit broke down the left-wing but had his sharp angled shot went off the outside of the Vernon net. The puck somehow caromed back to Hilderman at the blue-line, who hammered a slap-shot over Austin Smith and underneath the cross-bar at 4:14; Hilderman’s first goal in 22 games.
Hilderman doesn’t mind playing at Kal-Tire place as both his goals this season have come in Vernon; he scored his only other goal in Vernon back on January 24th.
No one knew it at the time but the Hilderman blast was the only offense the Vees would need on Friday night. Oliver Mantha was excellent as stopped the six shots he faced in the first, including a few on tricky deflections from Vipers forwards.
The Vees had several opportunities early in the second to double their lead but, as the saying goes, they simply couldn’t buy a goal. Erik Benoit and Max Coatta both had breakaways early. Benoit tried a back-hand deke but was stuffed by Smith’s left-pad. Coatta gobbled up an errant pass at the Vipers blue-line but his five-hole bid was just kept out by the Vipers puck-stopper.
Steen Cooper and Brad McClure also had chances to give the Vees some breathing room. Cooper pounced on a rebound in the slot but his attempt was fought off by Smith’s toe then the post. McClure tried to tuck a wraparound into an open net after a scramble in the Vernon crease but the puck trickled painfully wide.
Vernon pushed back in the latter half of the middle frame and had their fair share of chances to equalize but Oliver Mantha was rock solid. The Vipers best chance came on a two-on-one, as Brendan Persley was setup on a back-door pass. Mantha lunged to his left and got his pad on the redirect. One of his 14 saves in the second to help preserve the 1-0 lead.
The two teams kicked it up a gear in the third period, which featured very few whistles. The Vees again had a handful of chances to cushion their lead throughout the frame. Nic Pierog likely had the Vees best chance after some great work by Shane McColgan.
McColgan danced down the left-wing, curled around the goal, then tossed the puck back out front to Pierog, who pushed his one-timer just inches wide of the post.
The Captain finally put Vees fans nerves at ease, when he buried an insurance marker into an empty-net with one minute left in third.
Final Score: 2-0 Vees
Shots: 30-28 Vees
Power-Plays: Vees 0-4 Vipers 0-4
Three Stars: 1) Olivier Mantha 2) Austin Smith 3) Brad McClure
Oliver Mantha stopped all 28 shots directed his way to pick up his second shutout of the post-season. Brad McClure’s two point effort keeps him atop of the playoff scoring race with nine goals and 19 points; one point better than Victoria’s Gerry Fitzgerald. The road team has now won four of the six games in this series.
Game seven, goes tomorrow night, Saturday, March 22nd at the SOEC; face-off is 6pm. Season ticket holders will have their seats held until noon, 12pm, then they’ll be released to the general public. The Valley First box office (at the SOEC) opens up at 10 am tomorrow morning. A reminder, beer and soft drinks are just $2.50 and hotdogs are just $3. Also the band “Fluxx” will be performing live once again.