A costly loss against a team they should beat has the Chilliwack Chiefs sharing first place in the Mainland division for the first time in a long time.
The Chiefs (22-11-1-1) dropped a 6-3 decision to the visiting Langley Rivermen (14-14-1-5) at Prospera Centre, leaving them tied with the Surrey Eagles (21-10-1-3). Chilliwack has lost three of four coming out of the Christmas break, which should make for an interesting week heading into the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
One team had their legs moving in period one, and it wasn’t the Chiefs.
The Rivermen had the home team on its heels for 20 minutes, with the evidence all over the scoreboard. Penalty wise, the Chiefs took four minors a coach doesn’t want the see, the type of penalties taken when a team is playing lazy.
The Rivermen cashed in with two power play goals, adding another at even strength to lead 3-0 after period one.
Langley opened the scoring at 2:54. Working with the man advantage, Mario Puskarich set up on the right-wing boards and sent a cross-ice pass to the far post. Evan Campbell was there for the tap-in, netting his 10th of the year.
Trevor Cope doubled the lead at 15:18. The 18-year-old Michigan native cut through the left faceoff circle, caught Chiefs netminder Mitch Gillam going down early, and fit a short-side lazer under the crossbar for his 10th of the year.
James Robinson put the Rivermen up 3-0 at 18:59, squeezing a short-side shot through Gillam off a one-timer feed from Tanner Johnson.
Shots on goal in period one favoured Langley 14-10.
Facing a leaky D and backup goalie, a comeback seemed feasible, and a more determined Chiefs squad showed up in period two.
Chilliwack got on the board 1:48 into the middle frame on a goal by Mathieu Tibbett. The big grinder went to the net, tracking down the rebound of a Brodyn Nielsen shot and shovelling it through the leg pads of Langley keeper Darren Hogg.
The Chiefs ended up out-shooting Langley 19-8 in period two, but they couldn’t put anything else into the net.
Gillam bounced back nicely in the second period, making a couple stellar stops to keep his team in the game.
The goalie went post-to-post on a Langley power play to take a sure goal away from Puskarich, and robbed Austin Azurdia in the final minute.
But the Rivermen kept at it and got the theoretical backbreaker goal 2:59 into period three.
Nathan Craft worked behind the Chilliwack net, feeding the puck to Mitch McLain in front for a bang-bang one-timer.
Down 4-1, it looked like lights out for the Chiefs.
Then Austin Plevy went to work.
The former Riverman cut the lead to 4-2 at 5:47, beating Hogg with a sharp-angle short-side snipe. Fifteen seconds later, Plevy waded into a goal-mouth scramble, shoving his 18th of the year past Hogg to get Chilliwack within one.
With all the momentum on the side of the Chiefs, it was Langley getting the dagger goal against the run of play. Matt Butcher’s baby brother Ben pulled the trigger with 7:07 left, his ninth of the season finally putting the game out of reach.
Gillam came to the bench with slightly less than two minutes remaining, and McLain iced the game with an empty net goal with 11.9 ticks remaining.
The three stars were Campbell (first), Plevy (second) and Puskarich (third).
The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Garrett Forster.
Announced attendance was 2,403.
The Chiefs host the Prince George Spruce Kings Friday night at 7 p.m.