A Chilliwack Chiefs team that has been so good this season had the wheels fall of Sunday night, losing 6-3 on home ice to the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Coming off back to back shutout wins over the Prince George Spruce Kings Thursday and Friday night, the Chiefs (19-6-1-1) figured to cap off a perfect weekend with a win over a mediocre Smokies squad (11-18-0-1).
Trail didn’t cooperate.
Though they fell behind early, the visitors never stopped coming. The feisty Smoke Eaters beat Chilliwack for the second time in two meetings this season, and the Chiefs will be happy to see the last of them for 2012-13 (barring playoffs).
Things started so well for the Chiefs, who got the only two goals of period one.
Austin Plevy got Chilliwack on the board at 7:14. Luke Esposito drew the assist with a shot from the right faceoff dot. Trail netminder Lyndon Stanwood left the rebound on the doorstep for Plevy, who buried his 15th of the year.
On teddy bear/toque toss night, fuzzy things came raining down from the stands.
Esposito struck for one of his own with 2:19 left in the opening frame.
Chiefs D-man Ben Israel cranked a point shot that cleared the top of the net by five feet, clanging off the end-glass and careening back in front. The Connecticut kid found it first, skating into the crease to pop it over Stanwood’s glove.
Shots on goal through 20 minutes favoured Chilliwack 17-13.
The second period was the start of the horror show for the Chiefs, who discovered for a second time this season that you can’t let up on the Smokies.
Chilliwack should have learned that lesson in early November, when a 3-0 first period lead turned into a 5-4 road loss in Trail.
On Sunday night, the Smoke Eaters scored thrice in the middle frame to turn a two-goal deficit into a 3-2 lead.
Trail got two within the first 3:13 of the middle frame.
The first came off a bad giveaway behind the Chilliwack net. Goaltender Josh Halpenny left his cage to play the puck, and perhaps expected one of his D-men to be in the neighborhood. The keeper hesitated just long enough for Luke Sandler to pick his pocket and throw the puck in front. Adam Wheeldon hit the unguarded net to make it 2-1.
On a Trail power play 49 seconds later, Brent Baltus parked his butt in the blue paint, deflecting the puck up and over Halpenny’s shoulder for his league leading 19th of the year (one ahead of Chilliwack’s Josh Hansen).
The Chiefs came unglued as the period went on, taking penalty after undisciplined penalty.
Trail got their third goal on another power play, with Chilliwack flagged for too many men.
On the power play, Halpenny stopped a shot from Jake Lucchini, but couldn’t locate the puck in the blue paint. Sandler found it before Halpenny, sliding it under the keeper for his ninth of the year and a 3-2 Smoke Eaters lead.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Trail 32-25.
The Smokies kept coming in period three, adding another goal just 1:20 into the final frame.
Sandler got his second of the game, getting in behind the Chilliwack defence to score on a breakaway. Just over a minute later, Baltus cruised through the crease, putting a shot over Halpenny’s glove to make the score 5-3.
Sandler beat Halpenny from well out at 3:54 and the game was effectively over.
Garrett Forster scored in the final minute to make the final score a wee bit more respectable, but you know it’s a particularly bad night when the visitors sweep the three star selections.
The three stars were Sandler (first), Baltus (second) and Braden Pears (Trail, third).
The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Chilliwack’s Trevor Hills.
Announced attendance was 1,825.