The Merritt Centennials jumped back into their BCHL Interior Division semifinal series against the Penticton Vees winning 5-1 on Monday night in their home rink.
The Vees lead is now 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game Four on Tuesday back in Merritt.
Tyler Ward and Mike Regush each had a goal and an assist, and Cade Gleekel, Nicholas Wicks and Stephan Seeger also found the back of the net for Merritt, who picked up just their second win in nine tries against Penticton this season.
Jacob Berger was named the game’s first star, stopping 42 of 43 shots, including 19 of 20 in the third period, as he nabbed his fifth playoff win.
Chris Klack spoiled the shutout bid for Berger, scoring with less than five-minutes left, as Penticton was tagged with their first loss since Feb. 23. Vees netminder Mat Robson suffered his first loss this post-season, stopping 23 of 27 shots.
It was a back and forth start, as both teams traded chances early on and the Vees’ had a great chance to open the scoring, when Ty Amonte was sent in a on a breakaway from the Merritt blue-line, but he had his attempt on the blocker-side kicked-out by Berger.
The Centennials carried a 3-0 lead into the third period when the Vees believed they cut that in half after a scramble in the Merritt crease. It looked as if Owen Sillinger had clearly shoveled the puck across the line, before it was gloved out of the net by a Cents’ defenceman. Inexplicably, the officials waved off the goal after a brief discussion; the referees failed to award a penalty shot as well.
Gabe Bast came close to scoring not too long after the no-goal, as he ripped a slap shot of the cross-bar on a one-timer from the blue-line. Seconds later, it got worse for Penticton, as Merritt’s Nicholas Wicks came down the right-wing and beat Robson with a wrist-shot on the blocker side at 6:27 to make it 4-0.
Klack broke up the shutout bid with just over five-minutes left, scoring his first of the playoffs. He took a drop pass from Nicholas Jones and fired a shot off both posts and in at 14:42.
Stephan Seeger sealed the Centennials win with an empty-net goal with just 73-seconds left, after picking off an errant pass just outside of the Vees’ zone.
The teams are back in action tonight in Merritt for Game Four at 7 p.m. Merritt’s Monday night win guarantees a Game Five in Penticton on Thursday, March 23, at the South Okanagan Events Centre at 7 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults and $14 for seniors, and local students (18 and under) and children are free, courtesy of Peter Bros. Construction. Tickets are available at the Valley First box office, or online at www.valleyfirsttix.com.