The LaSalle Vipers erased a 2-0 deficit, scoring once in the second period and then tying the game in the final minute of regulation before winning in a shootout to defeat the St. Marys Lincolns on Sunday afternoon in St. Marys.
In what was a playoff preview between the two sides, the fans at the Pyramid Recreation Complex were treated to a thrilling affair between two very evenly matched teams. Despite a strong first period, the Vipers fell behind when the Lincolns scored two goals 1:05 apart late in the first, the second coming via the flukey variety when Spencer Hazell banked one in off Vipers goaltender Matthew Sbrocca. That would be the last puck to get past the star netminder on this day however, as Sbrocca would go on to turn in an absolute goaltending clinic over the rest of the game.
Coping with the most depleted lineup in the league due to injuries to several key forwards including their top three scorers, the Vipers will need elevated contributions from all hands on deck. One such player that is more than capable of that is first-year centre Brody Gillis, who got the visitors on the board early in the second period, finishing off a nice passing play with defenseman Tanner Winegard. St. Marys would go on to outshoot LaSalle 15-6 in the middle frame to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Having killed off a lengthy two-man disadvantage in the second period, the Vipers were presented with the exact same scenario early in the third and again were up to the task thanks to some great penalty-killing and superb goaltending from Sbrocca. They looked to have tied the game when Nick Graniero broke in alone and beat Lincolns goaltender Bryce Walcarius, but the play was whistled down on an offside. Undeterred from that, LaSalle pushed for the equalizer, out-hustling their opponents to draw a couple late period penalties of their own. They could not capitalize on either, but the momentum carried into the game’s final moments and it paid off when Andrew Kotevski pounced on a rebound to tie things up with just over a minute left in regulation.
In the seven-minute 3on3 overtime, Sbrocca took over as the game’s headliner, making several unbelievable stops, including two post-to-post pad saves to shut down two different glorious two-on-one opportunities. Overtime solved nothing and in the shootout the Vipers second shooter Spencer Lecot scored the only goal as Sbrocca took care of all three Lincolns shooters and the visitors skated away with the extra point and the 3-2 victory. Sbrocca made 40 saves in total and without question was the Game’s First Star.
The win puts the Vipers as close as possible to locking up fourth-place and home-ice advantage against the Lincolns in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They will need to pick up just one point in their three remaining games to do so, while a St. Marys loss in their final game on Friday night would also do the trick.
LaSalle’s first chance to lock up fourth-place comes on Wednesday night when the Leamington Flyers make their final visit of the regular-season to the Vollmer Complex. Game-time for that one is 7:00 PM.