MERRITT, BC-As the adage goes, you’re never in trouble until you lose at home and the Merritt Centennials have certainly taken that to heart. Merritt kept their perfect playoff home record intact Monday, winning 5-1 over the Penticton Vees in Game Three of their Interior Division Semi-Final.
The Vees lead is now 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game Four 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 February 23rd. 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.
Not long after that near miss, Regush got the ice-breaker, cleaning up his rebound after Robson made the initial save. Regush jammed in his third of the playoffs past Robson on his blocker-side at 5:22, giving the Cents their first lead of the series.
Penticton had a great opportunity to tie it midway through the opening frame, as they were handed a five-on-three power-play after two quick Merritt penalties. However, the visitors couldn’t capitalize on the 48-second two-man advantage; they came close though as Nicholas Jones hit the post from the slot.
During that Vees’ power-play, Robson was called into action, as he made an excellent breakaway save off Brett Jewell to keep the Vees within one. However, the Cents’ were at it again early in the second.
Merritt doubled their lead 84-seconds into the middle stanza, as Tyler Ward got to a rebound in front of the Vees’ net. Zach Metsa had his point-shot stopped but Ward was there to slide a backhand between Robson and the post at 1:24.
Cade Gleekel added to the Cents’ lead midway through the frame when he found daylight between Robson and the post. Gleekel came out of the corner and snuck the puck behind Robson on the blocker-side from the goal-line at 12:36.
Controversy struck early in the third period, as Penticton thought they had scored 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, when he took a drop pass from Nicholas Jones and fired a shot off both posts and in at 14:42; Klack scoring his first of the playoffs.
Stephan Seeger sealed it with an empty-net goal with just 73-seconds left, after picking off an errant pass just outside of the Vees’ zone.
Final Score: 5-1 Merritt
Shots: 43-27 Penticton
Power-Plays: Vees 0-5 Merritt 0-3
Three Stars: 1) Jacob Berger 2) Mike Regush 3) Nicholas Wicks.
Notes: Penticton looks to take a 3-1 series lead Tuesday, March 21st, in Merritt, in Game Four of their Interior Division Semi-Final series; puck drop is 7 pm.