The timing couldn't have been any better for the Langley Rivermen.
The 'Men beat the Chilliwack Chiefs and Vernon Vipers last weekend to remain five points up on the suddenly hot Coquitlam Express in the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot in the B.C. Hockey League Mainland Division.
With a record of 22-23-1-5 and with five games to go in their regular season, the Rivermen have one game in hand on the 22-29-1-0 Express, who have won four of their last five contests.
"I thought we played pretty good," Rivermen head coach Bobby Henderson said, when asked to assess his team's weekend performance.
"Obviously there's internal pressure to perform with Coquitlam making things tough for us."
Rivermen 3, Vernon Vipers 2 (overtime) The Rivermen made the most out of their first and only trip up to Vernon.
The 'Men erased a 2-0 deficit, then scored the overtime winner on Saturday.
Early in the first overtime period, rookie defenseman Tanner capped off a night to remember.
Langley forward Matt Ustaski led the rush in the Vernon zone and centered a pass to James Robinson, who found Johnson joining the play late. He beat Vernon goaltender Austin Smith along the ice for the game-winning goal.
"I was impressed with the Saturday night game up in Vernon," Henderson said. "They [the players] could have been satisfied with the Friday night victory [over Chilliwack], but I don't think Chilliwack brought their 'A' game. They're better than that."
The head coach was happy his players were able to battle through some early adversity to come through with the win.
James Barr started for Langley in goal, while Smith got the call for Vernon.
The five-hour bus ride up to Vernon seemed to get to the 'Men in the first period, as the Vipers were all over them to start the game.
Twenty seconds in, Barr was forced to make an unbelievable pad stop on Liam Board, who was set up perfectly by Mason Blacklock on a two-on-one.
The Vipers kept pressing and were rewarded for their efforts on a goal from captain Brett Corkey at the 7: 34 mark.
Corkey played give-and-go with Michael Roberts in the Langley zone and, all alone in the slot, fired a snap shot off the post and in the net past Barr's blocker.
The Rivermen had a couple of opportunities on the power play, but could not get anything by Smith.
With less than one minute to go, Vernon's Craig Martin put away a wrap around to make it 2-0 after he found a loose puck behind the Langley net.
The Vipers outshot the 'Men 13-9 after 20 minutes.
The Rivermen took over during the second period.
Johnson scored his first career BCHL goal at the 5: 34 mark to get his team on the board.
Robinson passed the puck out in front of the net to Mario Puskarich, who fanned on his shot, but Johnson came in off the right point and slapped home a goal he will soon not forget.
The goal sparked the Rivermen as they started to find their legs and were able to tie up the game on a power play goal from Ustaski. Mark Whitley did a great job of entering the attacking zone on a rush before dropping a pass to a trailing Puskarich, who fired a shot on Smith, who let out a big rebound. With the puck in mid-air, Ustaski whacked it into the net for his 11th of the season.
The third period was pretty even for the most part. Both teams had chances, but none bigger than Vernon's Logan Mick in the late stages.
After a Vipers forward fired a shot on Barr, the rebound ended up right in front of the crease to a wide-open Mick who looked like he had Barr beat, but the Langley net-minder dove at the shot and kept the puck out.
Johnson was named the game's first star after picking up his first two goals of the season. Barr picked up his second straight win on the weekend and now has 19 on the season.
Puskarich, who racked up two assists, stretched his point streak to six games and is the first player in the BCHL to reach 80 points.
Chilliwack Chiefs 1
The Rivermen played three solid periods Friday at the Langley Events Centre, and were finally rewarded for their efforts in the final frame.
The 'Men scored three unanswered goals in the third period in what was the most inspired 20 minutes of hockey they've played all season.
The Chiefs had a 3-1 advantage in wins in the season series and were coming off two straight victories, while the Rivermen were looking to snap a two-game losing skid.
The first period was a battle of the goaltenders. Barr and Chilliwack's Mitch Gillam went save for save, although Barr was tested seven more times.
Just before the six-minute mark of the second period, Rivermen forward Jakob Reichert broke the deadlock.
With Chilliwack's Phil Zielonka looking to stickhandle his way out of the Chiefs zone, Derek Sutliffe picked his pocket before feeding Reichert in the slot. Reichert fired a shot between the pads of Gillam for his ninth goal of the season.
The 1-0 lead did not last very long as the Chiefs tied the score on a power play goal from their captain David Thompson. Zielonka put a puck on goal from the left wing that was tipped perfectly by Spencer Graboski in the slot to Thompson, who was streaking in from the point. Thompson then buried his sixth goal of the season.
Then, with under four minutes to go in the second, the Rivermen cashed in on a power play.
Mark Whiteley took a pass at the blueline and put a shot through a maze of bodies in front of the goal. The puck found its way between the legs of Gillam to make it 2-1 Rivermen.
The Rivermen's Evan
Anderson got the scoring started at the 2: 19 mark as he put home his own rebound in the slot for his 11th goal of the year.
Less than 11 minutes later, Sutliffe won a foot race to the puck in the neutral zone and took the puck around the Chiefs net before wrapping it in past a sliding Gillam.
It was an unbelievable solo effort from the Las Vegas native and showed his world-class speed on that play.
With just over a minute to go in regulation, the league's leading scorer got in on the act. Mario Puskarich took a perfect cross ice pass from Logan Smith and rifled home a shot top corner for his 38th goal of the campaign.
In the end, Langley won by a four-goal margin while narrowly outshooting the Chiefs 37-36.
The Rivermen will rematch with the Chiefs Friday at the LEC. Game time is 7: 15 p.m.
The Chiefs remain second in the BCHL Mainland with a 30-20-1-1 record.
Henderson knows the Chiefs will be fired up for Friday's game.
"They'll be bringing their 'A' game," he said. "I'm pretty sure they'll be champing at the bit. We have to be ready to go, and make sure we're mentally prepared for it."
After that, the 'Men motor north to Prince George for games Saturday night and Sunday afternoon against the Spruce Kings, who sit third in the Mainland at 24-20-1-7.
LANGLEY CRIBBAGE LEAGUE
Scores as of Feb. 21
Harmsworth 22, Fort Langley 14 Milner 19, Willoughby 17 Murrayville 21, Langley 15
Second half standings
Murrayville 155, Milner 146, Harmsworth 142, Will'by 141, Fort Langley 140, Langley 140