PRINCE GEORGE—After a crushing 4-3 overtime loss to the Merritt Centennials Monday night at the Coliseum, the Prince George Spruce Kings are down to their last life in the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
The Cents took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Interior Conference semifinal when Merritt captain Evan Stack jumped on a strange bounce off the end boards in the Prince George zone and snapped a high shot past Spruce Kings goalie Kirk Thompson. Up until that point, the Kings had generated the best chances in the extra session.
The Centennials won the first two games of the series, 4-1 and 3-1 on home ice.
Game 4 goes tonight at the Coliseum. Puck-drop is at 7.
With a minute left in regulation time, Prince George's Jujhar Khaira had two glorious chances from the side of the Merritt net but couldn't coax the puck across the line.
At 9:18 of the third, the Kings sent the Coliseum crowd into a frenzy when Myles Fitzgerald scored the tying goal from his knees at a sharp angle. The goal, on a power play, came after extended pressure inside the Merritt blueline.
The Centennials led 2-1 after the first period and 3-2 after 40 minutes.
In the middle frame, the Cents struck for a goal and a 3-1 lead just 1:04 after the face-off. Blueliner Dylan Chanter did the damage when he took advantage of some time and space and hammered a slapshot past Thompson, who was making his first start of the series. The Kings responded half way through the period when league scoring champion Paul De Jersey hopped on a rebound at the right side of the Merritt net and quickly knocked the puck past goalie Lino Chimienti. The goal was De Jersey's first of the series.
The Kings then helped their own cause when they killed off three consecutive penalties, including a lengthy 5-on-3 for the Centennials.
The Spruce Kings allowed the Cents to freewheel with the puck a bit too much in the first period and they paid the price. Both of Merritt's goals in the opening 20 minutes were scored in full flight. First, at the 7:29 mark, defenceman Reece Wilcox jumped up into the rush and, unchecked, took a pass from Jakob Reichert and snapped a shot into the open left side of the Prince George net.
The Kings got that one back on a power-play deflection by Gerry Fitzgerald but the Cents restored their one-goal advantage when Sean Maktaak drove past Prince George defenceman Skylar Pacheco, accepted a feed from Patrick Chore, and scored low on Thompson. Maktaak's shot barely crossed the goal line after Thompson got a piece of it.
If the Cents win tonight's game four against the Spruce Kings, they will have been the first BCHL to have swept a series in the 2012 playoffs.
ICE CHIPS: Canadian icon Rick Hansen performed the ceremonial face-off on Monday night. Hansen, in town as part of the 25th anniversary of the Man in Motion world tour, dropped the puck between Kings' captain Ben Matthews and Stack. Hansen got a huge cheer from the near-sellout crowd.
In the other Interior Conference semifinal, the Penticton Vees beat the Chilliwack 3-1 Monday night in Chilliwack and took a 2-1 series lead.