The Chilliwack Chiefs played with fire and almost got burnt Saturday night.
But a four-goal rally saved the BCHL squad the embarrassment of a home-ice loss to the lowly Trail Smoke Eaters, and Chilliwack escaped with a narrow 4-3 victory.
The Chiefs trailed 1-0 through 20 minutes, and they were lucky the deficit wasn’t larger.
Against any team but the scoring-challenged Smokies, the home side could have been down by three or four.
Chilliwack had a 5-1 edge in shots early in the period. Trail out-shot them 16-5 the rest of the way and opened the scoring at 12:02.
With Matt Hutchinson (holding) in the box and the Smoke Eaters working on the power play, Brent Baltus cruised through the goal-mouth, nabbed a rebound and swept a backhand shot past Chiefs keeper Mitch Gillam for his seventh of the year. Chilliwack native Connor Tiechko earned an assist.
Trail came perilously close to doubling their lead on the next shift when rookie defenceman Austin Edwards gave the puck to Trail’s Erik Cooper in the slot.
Gillam bailed out the Abbotsford native, stretching post-to-post to keep the puck out.
The Smoke Eaters enjoyed a brief two-man advantage later in the period when Gillam took two minutes for delay of game, and Michael Spring took two for a blow to the head. Trail couldn’t cash in, and Brandon Long eventually took them off the power play with a hold on Chilliwack’s David Thompson.
The Smokies kept coming in period two, and added to their lead at 9:30 on a goal by Garrett McMullen.
The New York native scored off a two-on-one rush, using linemate Luke Bertolucci as a decoy and going five-hole through the legs of Gillam for his ninth of the year.
Less than a minute later, Cooper strolled out of the right corner and into the goal-mouth, snapping the puck past Gillam to give Trail a 3-0 cushion.
Desperately needing a lift, the Chiefs got a break when David Bondra was hauled down on a scoring chance.
Referee Eric Martens immediately pointed to center ice, giving the 19-year-old a penalty shot.
Trail netminder Lyndon Stanwood came well out to challenge, but had to back up as Bondra came in with speed. The Maryland native slammed on the brakes at the top of the goal crease and slid a backhand shot past Stanwood for his 18th of the year.
The Chiefs finally seemed to wake up late in the middle frame, and got within one at 16:40 on a goal by Thompson.
Malcolm Gould earned the assist, threading a diagonal cross-ice pass through traffic from the far left boards. Thompson snuck down from the right point, collected the pass and lifted a shot upstairs for his eighth.
Chilliwack was all over Trail in the final seconds of period two, and carried a ton of momentum into period three.
The Chiefs netted the equalizer 7:51 into the final frame on a goal by Gould. Kody Dhaliwal got a well-earned assist, dancing past a Trail defender along the left wing boards and feeding a cross-ice pass to Gould.
The North Vancouver native gunned the puck off the crossbar and in for his 19th.
Chilliwack completed the comeback with 6:51 remaining on a goal that Stanwood would most definitely want back.
Shay Laurent slammed the puck on net from the far left-wing boards.
Stanwood put his glove up and got a piece of it, but not enough to stop the puck from flopping across the line.
No one was more surprised than Laurent to see the red light go on.
No one was more depressed than Stanwood.
Trail had one final chance with 1:40 left as Gould took two minutes for hooking Tim Coish. Stanwood came to the bench with 20 seconds left, but the Smokies came up short, taking their sixth loss in six head-to-head meetings versus Chilliwack this season.
Three stars were Gould (first), Tiechko (second) and Thompson (third).
The announced attendance was 2,569.