The Chilliwack Chiefs officially wrapped up first place in the Mainland division with a 6-5 win over the Langley Rivermen Wednesday night at Prospera Centre.
The Chiefs moved 11 points up on the Rivermen, who have just four regular season games to play and cannot catch them.
While Chilliwack (33-16-1-3) has now won five straight games, Langley (27-22-1-4) is heading in the opposite direction.
Losers of four straight, the Rivermen could still slip further down the ladder, with the Prince George Spruce Kings lurk just one point behind them.
Wednesday’s game got away from Langley in a hurry.
The Chiefs opened the scoring just 3:13 in on a Jake Hand snipe. The 20 year old Ontario native fought off a check in the neutral zone, glided down the right wing and snapped a top shelf shot from the right faceoff dot. The rising fastball went over the shoulder of Langley keeper Bo Didur, getting Hand to the 20 goal mark for the year.
Chilliwack doubled the lead at 9:35 on Kawaguchi’s 23rd of the year.
Langley got on the board at 13:30 on a goal by defenceman Charlie Pelnik. Matthew Graham earned the assist, winning a faceoff and making a beeline to the Chilliwack net. With Graham and Chiefs D-man Eric Roberts jostling in the crease, netminder David Jacobson didn’t see Pelnik’s blast from the point until it squeaked through his leg pads and wobbled across the line.
A pair of penalties led to the third Chilliwack goal.
First, it was Colton Kehler sticking his knee out on Chiefs forward Kurt Black, sending the Winfield native limping to the dressing room. Then, it was William Campion delivering a cross check to the back of Kawaguchi.
Chilliwack had 1:28 of five-on-three and cashed in with two seconds left in the Kehler minor. Scott Davidson pulled the trigger on his 16th of the year, putting a wrist shot past Didur, who couldn’t see through two players battling in the blue paint.
The Chiefs got one more, with 22.8 seconds left in the opening frame. Kawaguchi got the assist on a controversial tally by Tipper Higgins. Kawaguchi threw a centering pass on net from the right wing. Higgins stretched his left leg out and had the puck go off his skate and in. Referees Bryan Bourdon and Nick Bilko ruled the redirect unintentional, sending Chilliwack to the break with a 4-1 lead.
Shots on goal through 20 minutes favoured the home team 10-7, and Darren Martin was in the Langley net as the second period started.
The Rivermen inched a little bit closer midway through period two, with an unintentional assist to Jacobson. When the goalie went behind the net to play a puck, he whipped it into the left corner where Kevan Kilistoff was waiting.
Bang bang. Before Jacobson could get back Kilistoff had fired a centering pass to Graham who potted his 17th into an unguarded cage.
The Chiefs got that one back at 14:53, with Rory Bell skating down the right wing and rifling a sharp-angle shot over Martin’s glove.
The middle frame ended with a spirited scrap between Chilliwack’s Ryan Bowen and Langley’s Erik Udahl. 18 year old Uhdahl got the better of his 16 year old foe, but not by much, and the Chiefs took a 5-2 lead to period three.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured the home team 19-16.
Back from the dressing room and feeling better, Kurt Black gave Chilliwack a 6-2 lead 4:20 into the final frame, netting his 17th on a power play.
Late goals by Langley’s Marcus Vela, Hunter Anderson and Vela again set up a finish that was far more dramatic than it should have been. Within one with 1:15 to play, the Rivermen pulled Martin for the extra attacker. But the Chiefs held on to the final whistle, escaping with the win.
Announced attendance was 2,618.
The three stars were Davidson (first), Kawaguchi (second) and Higgins (third).
The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Chilliwack’s Luke McColgan.