The Chilliwack Chiefs went to overtime for a sixth straight game, earning a hard fought 4-3 win over the visiting Vernon Vipers Sunday night.
Chilliwack goaltender David Jacobson led the way with a 41 save effort, and Kurt Black netted the winner as the Chiefs finished off a highly productive weekend. Chilliwack improved to 30-16-1-3 and took five of a possible six points from Penticton, West Kelowna and Vernon. The Langley Rivermen, meanwhile, grabbed just two points in three games on a road trip to Vancouver Island.
The net result, Chilliwack now enjoys a five point lead for first place in the Mainland division standings.
It was Kawaguchi and Craig Puffer combining to open the scoring against Vernon.
With Vernon’s Luke Shiplo in the box and Chilliwack on the power play, Kawaguchi worked off the right-wing boards and feathered a pass across the goal-mouth to Puffer. The Connecticut kid punched the puck past Vernon stopper Danny Todosychuk at 9:27, collecting his team-leading 25th of the year.
That was the only goal in a sloppy, scrambly first period that saw Vernon out-shoot the Chiefs 8-6.
The Vipers turned up the heat and owned the middle frame. Looking like they were skating in molasses, the home team tested Todosychuk with 10 mostly harmless shots. Meanwhile, the speedy snakes fired 20 pucks at Chiefs keeper David Jacobson.
Vernon tied the game at 1-1 at 9:30 on a curious goal. A Viper threw the puck into the goal mouth,where Jacobson couldn’t find it. Vernon attackers had one, two, three, four whacks and still the stopper didn’t know where it was. Not until it was behind him and in the net, courtesy D-man Luke Shiplo.
The Vipers struck again in the final minute of period two when a Johnny Coughlin wrister from the left point evaded Jacobson through a screen of skaters, sending Vernon to period three with a 2-1 lead.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured the visitors 28-16.
The Vipers seemed to get the insurance they needed 70 seconds into the final frame when Riley Brandt was allowed to skate unchecked into the slot and rifle a shot over Jacobson’s glove for his 10th of the year.
But the Chiefs got their chance to climb back into it when Vernon ran into penalty trouble. With Mackenzie Bauer already in the box for interference, Mitchell Olivier got his stick up on Chilliwack forward Luke McColgan.
A double minor for high sticking gave the Chiefs a two man advantage for 1:17 and Dennis Cholowski made the Vipers pay. The rookie blueliner took a feed from Jake Hand and, from the high slot, lasered a wrist shot over Todosychuk’s glove.
The Chiefs still had 2:35 in power play time remaining, and came close to tying on a McColgan one-timer from the slot, but Vernon dodged the bullet and resumed their even-strength dominance.
The Vipers kept up the aggressive forecheck, hounded Chilliwack attackers on the back-check and looked like they’d be able to kill the clock.
Jacobson was forced to make a spectacular save with time winding down, lunging backwards Dominik Hasek-style with his stick to swat the puck away from Liam Coughlin. And when Jacobson was pulled for an extra attacker with one minute to go, the stage was set for Jake Hand’s last-minute heroics.
Puffer got the assist at on Hand’s goal, scored at 19:21. He threw a centering pass into the goal-mouth, where Hand chipped it over Todosychuk’s left shoulder to send this one to overtime.
A Vernon penalty for too many men gave Chilliwack four-on-three power play in the first OT period. The Chiefs buzzed the Vernon net like hornets, but came up empty.
With 2:25 left in three-on-three overtime the home team finally got the winner. Brandon Tkachuk put a puck on net from the top of the left faceoff circle. Todosychuk couldn’t control the rebound, letting it drop into the blue paint.
Brandon Potomak had the first crack at it, but couldn’t poke it in. Ex-Viper Kurt Black followed up, popping the puck past Todosychuk to complete the comeback.
The three stars were Puffer (first), Brandon Egli (Vernon, second) and Jacobson (third).
The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Scott Davidson.
Announced attendance was 2,137.