Higgins caps epic comeback with overtime winner

The Chilliwack Chiefs stormed back with three late goals to beat a feisty Trail Smoke Eaters squad Friday night at Prospera Centre.

With less than three seconds in the second period

With less than three seconds in the second period

The Chilliwack Chiefs pulled off an epic upset Friday night, overcoming a three goal deficit in the final 10 minutes to beat the Trail Smoke Eaters 8-7 at Prospera Centre.

Chiefs netminder Aidan Pelino had perhaps his roughest outing of the year, but Trail netminder Brett Clark was one goal worse.

Clark’s ineptitude culimated in overtime when he whiffed on a long-range Tipper Higgins shot, giving Chilliwack (26-15-1-1) an improbable win in extremely entertaining fashion.

Craig Puffer scored the first of many goals,, netting his 22nd of the season at 5:31. Linemates Tipper Higgins and Scott Davidson both earned assists with an aggressive forecheck that created a turnover behind the Trail net.

Davidson got the puck to Puffer who out-waited Smokies netminder Brett Clark as he darted right to left across the goal-mouth. The Connecticut kid finally slipped the puck inside the left goal-post.

Trail drew even at 9:55 on a goal by Max Newton. The Vancouver native camped in the high slot and one-timed a feed from Bryan Basilico, putting the puck off the right post and in behind Chilliwack keeper Aidan Pelino.

Trail surged into the lead at 12:28, taking advantage of shoddy defensive coverage by the Chiefs. Jake Lucchini inexplicably found himself with the puck and no defender near him behind the Chilliwack end-line.

Skating in front with no Chief within 15 feet, the Trail native snuck a five-hole shot through Pelino for his 19th of the year. Then, with Chilliwack players scrambling all over their zone moments later, Harlan Orr shovelled a backhand shot past Pelino for a 3-1 Smoke Eaters lead.

Shots on goal through 20 minutes favoured the visitors 14-9.

Pelino was still between the pipes to start the period, looking to settle down.

Midway through the middle frame the Ontario native came up with his best stop on a two on one rush.

Trail’s Charlie Zuccarini flew down the right wing, throwing the puck across the goal-mouth to Lucchini. Pelino flung himself across, stretching post to post to make a sprawling stop.

His team thanked him with a goal.

Defenceman Brandon Tkachuk found Brandon Potomak at centre ice with a stretch pass. Sidestepping a Trail defender, Potomak led a two-on-one rush with Davidson. To the last second it looked like Potomak wanted to pass. In the end he got in so tight that his pass/shot squeaked through Clark, getting Chilliwack back within one.

That didn’t last long, with Trail restoring their two-goal lead at 13:35.

Taking a drop pass from Martin steps inside the Chiefs blueline, former Chilliwack D-man Evan McEachern fired a rising shot that hit the boards behind the net. Martin swooped in to collect the puck and stuffed a wraparound past Pelino.

But, exactly one minute later Chilliwack fired back.

On a power play, Jake Hand flung a wrist shot on net from the right point. The puck evaded Clark through a maze of players, giving Hand his 16th of the year.

The teams traded two more power play goals, with Zuccarini scoring for Trail and Potomak scoring for Chilliwack.

Potomak’s came with just 2.5 seconds left in the period.

Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Trail 30-20.

Pelino’s shaky night continued 5:10 into period three when he gave up a softie to Lucchini. Closely guarded by a Chilliwack defenceman, Lucchini beat Pelino with a sharp angle backhander. When Martin pushed Trail’s lead to three at 8:45 it looked like they would cruise to the upset victory.

But outside-the-box thinking paid off for the home team. Getting unorthodox, Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic pulled Pelino several times in the final minutes to give his team a six-on-five edge.

With 6:46 to go, Jake Hand one-timed a Davidson pass past Clark to make it 7-5.

Tatarnic pulled Pelino again, and with 5:48 to go Jordan Kawaguchi deflected a Tkachuk point shot past Clarks to make it 7-6.

With three minutes to go, Hand hit the left goal post.

Pelino was back at the bench with just over two minutes remaining and his team buzzing the Smoke Eaters net.

And with just 27 seconds to go the Chiefs brought the season’s biggest crowd to its feet when Hand threw a puck on net, Puffer collected the rebound and flipped the puck over Clark to send the game to overtime.

In all, the Chilliwack net was empty for 3:29 of the final 10 minutes. Big points to Tatarnic for gutsiness that paid off.

Moving to four-on-four overtime, Tipper Higgins completed the comeback his fling-it-on-net winner,  watching the puck dribble in slow-motion across the goal-line for a truly memorable finish.

The three stars were Hand (first), Martin (Trail, second) and Potomak (third).

The Fortis Energy Player of the Game was Tkachuk.

Announced attendance was 3,515, the biggest since the Chiefs moved back to Chilliwack and the second largest in franchise history.