The Penticton Vees (37-11-2-3) continued their march to an unprecedented seventh Interior Division title with a 5-1 win over the Coquitlam Express (14-37-1-3) Friday in Coquitlam.
The Penticton victory combined with the Vernon Vipers (35-14-1-4) 2-1 loss in Powell River Friday, puts the Vees four points ahead with a game in hand with five to play.
Meanwhile, the Wenatchee Wild (35-14-4-1) moved themselves into contention with a 5-2 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters (31-18-4-1) to give the team 75 points, tied with Vernon, both teams with four games to play.
Penticton’s win Friday over the Express gave them a sweep of their season series, outscoring their Lower Mainland rivals 12-1. Coquitlam could potentially be the Vee’s first round opponents.
The Vees were awarded a power play nearly seven minutes into the game, but the Express had an excellent chance to open the scoring.
Coquitlam’s Jack McNab was robbed in front of the goal after the puck came to him at the top of the crease when Adam Scheel reached out with the blocker to make the save.
At the tail end of the power play, Nicky Leivermann let a slap shot go that hit a Coquitlam defender on the way through and deflected past Brock Hamm to open the scoring.
Later in the period an Express defenceman fell in his own zone, allowing Lukas Sillinger to find the loose puck and slide it through the five hole of Hamm to end a 23-game goal drought.
Early in the second Leivermann made a great play at the left point, faking his first shot to get a shooting lane before letting the puck go. His shot was deflected over the goal, but it came off the end glass right to the stick of Cassidy Bowes who had an open net to get his 14th of the year.
A little over halfway through the period the Vees went back on the man advantage and after Owen Sillinger’s shot went snuck through the legs of Hamm, Taylor Ward was able to slide it into the net for his 18th of the season.
Hamm went to the bench and was replaced by Clay Stevenson, but would return to the net just two minutes later.
The Vees added another before the period was up as Sillinger scored his third shorthanded goal of the year off a backhand pass from Chris Klack on a two-on-one rush.
Scheel appeared poised to record his fourth shutout of the year, but McNab denied it with just 1:12 to go in regulation.
The Vees continue their three-game swing against the Langley Rivermen (22-19-10-2) Saturday night. With their win the Vees climb to 79 points on the year, now four points clear of the Vernon Vipers for first after their loss in Powell River.