Trail, BC - If there's a team that is already familiar with having their backs against the wall this season it's the Smoke Eaters. They now have another opportunity to come back from the brink after a 4-2 loss in game 4 put them down 3 games to 1 in their first round series with the Westside Warriors.
One month ago the Smokies were injury ridden and in the midst of a 5 game losing streak with their playoff hopes looking bleak. Trail responded by earning points in 7 of their last 9 games and playing their best hockey of the season.
The orange and black find themselves in a similar situation heading into game 5 in West Kelowna. They're severely banged up and have lost 3 straight games, but it's way too early to count them out.
Westside managed to get ahead in the series by turning strong starts in game 3 and 4 into hard earned road victories. After controlling the play in the first period on Wednesday the Warriors got an early second period goal from Cam Reid to take a commanding 2 goal lead.
Trail answered immediately when Sam Mellor scored to turn the momentum in their favour. However, Kevin Jebson shut the door the rest of the way. The veteran goaltender stopped 30 of 32 Smoke Eater shots to give his team a chance to close the series out at home. Kiefer Smiley was also again strong as he stopped 30 of 33 Warrior shots.
The game was really a battle between two lines. Trail's top unit of Mellor, Nick Sandor and Scott Jacklin has produced all their offence in the last 3 games while Westside has been relying on Grayson Downing, Reid and Tyler Krause. Downing leads the series in scoring with 5 goals and 2 assists.
Special teams was again a difference maker in game 4 as the Warriors went 1 for 2 on the power play and Trail failed to convert their man advantage opportunities. The Smokies haven't scored with the extra man since their game 1 victory.
Game 5 is Thursday night at 7pm in West Kelowna.
ON THE TRAIL: The Smokies were again down to 10 healthy forwards for game 4. Darnell Dyck, Wade Bennett, Steve Oursov and Thomas Abenante all sat out with injuries. Defenceman Curtis Tonello also missed the game and was replaced in the line-up by affiliate defenceman Colton Semenok of the KIJHL's Beaver Valley Nitehawks ... Game 4 wasn't nearly as chippy as the previous night. There were a combined 120 penalty minutes on Tuesday compared to only 18 on Wednesday ... Trail welcomed the Canadian sledge hockey team to the Cominco Arena with a ceremony during the first intermission. Former Smokies assistant coach Mike Mondin is now an assistant for the sledge hockey club. They're the defending Paralympic champions preparing for the 2010 games in Vancouver.
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