The Trail Smoke Eaters dug deep and got a series clinching goal from Bryce Anderson as they earned a 4-2 victory in Game #5 of their Interior Division Quarterfinal series against the Merritt Centennials and won the best-of-seven series 4-1.
For the fourth time in the series, the Smoke Eaters find the back of the net first and took a 1-0 lead in Game #5. Kent Johnson played the puck ahead at the neutral zone with two defenders on him which opened up a lane for Mack Byers to skate onto the puck and have a clear-cut breakaway from the blue line. Byers picked his spot and shot low on the blocker side to beat Centennials netminder Austin Roden for his 3rd goal of the series and a 1-0 Smoke Eaters lead at the 9:47 mark of the opening period.
Trail played a very good road period in the opening 20 minutes and goaltender Donovan Buskey had a big part in that. Buskey turned aside each of the eight shots he faced in the opening period while Austin Roden stopped seven of the eight shots thrown on his goal to conclude the first period of action.
The middle stanza began with four-on-four play and both teams created some good looks on net before it was Trail who came away with the elusive second goal of the hockey game and was spurred from another strong neutral zone play and another breakaway, this time for forward Owen Ozar.
Braeden Tuck pried the puck free in the neutral territory as his pass to the middle of the ice was greeted by Ozar, who came racing into the Merritt zone on a breakaway. Ozar showed off his strong hands, making many quicks moves from the forehand to the backhand and finished on his forehand past the glove side of a down and out Roden for his 1st career BC Hockey League playoff goal that gave the Smoke Eaters a 2-0 lead at the 10:18 mark of the middle stanza.
The Smoke Eaters outshot the Centennials in the middle stanza by a 15-10 margin and possessed the puck very well in the 2nd frame. Donovan Buskey continued his strong play, turning aside all 10 shots he faced in the period and 18 through 40 minutes while Austin Roden stopped 14 of the 15 shots thrown his way in the period and 21 of the 23 through the two periods of play.
Merritt got themselves back in the game with a 5-on-3 power play goal at the 4:07 mark of the final period. Mike Van Unen took a pass at the right point and one-timed a slap shot past the blocker side of Buskey to get the Centennials on the board and cut the deficit to a goal early in the frame.
Just over a minute and a half later, Bradley Cocca tied the game at the 5:41 mark of the period. Cocca found the puck on the right side after a power play had just expired and spun to the right face-off circle and shot up and over the blocker side of Buskey and the score evened at 2-2.
The depth for the Smoke Eaters shined once again at the 10:18 mark of the 3rd period as Bryce Anderson scored what would hold up to be the series clinching goal. Max Kryski centered a bouncing puck from the left corner as Anderson batted it out of the air and bounced it past the blocker side of Roden to give the Smoke Eaters a 3-2 lead.
Buskey and the Smoke Eaters fought off some pressure from the Centennials to tie the game before the captain sealed a series clinching win as Braeden Tuck found the empty net from the left wing for his 2nd goal of the series and capped off a 4-2 victory for the Smoke Eaters and a first-round series win.
Donovan Buskey had another huge game in between the pipes for the Smoke Eaters, turning aside 32 of the 34 shots he faced in the game in his 4th win of the playoffs while Austin Roden stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced in the game in his 4th loss of the series.
FINAL SCORE: 4-2 Smoke Eaters
SHOTS ON GOAL: 34-33 Centennials
SMOKE EATERS PP: 0/4
SMOKE EATERS PK: 5/6
1) Austin Roden (29 saves on 32 shots)
2) Donovan Buskey (32 saves on 34 shots)
3) Bryce Anderson (1-0-1)
Fortis Energy Player of the Game: Bradley Cocca (1-0-1)
The Smoke Eaters will sit and await their next opponent as many different series could determine who Trail will play. Keep an eye on the Smoke Eaters social media channels as well as the website for all the information on the Interior Division Semi Final.