The Vernon Vipers needed three overtime periods to beat the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4-3 in B.C. Hockey League playoff action Friday at Kal Tire Place. The Vipers win the opening round series in five games, and start round two on Friday. (Katherine Peters - Morning Star)

Vernon Vipers eliminate Salmon Arm in 3OT

Hometown hero Matt Kowalski scores late in third overtime to send Vipers to next round

It was nearly two games in one Friday at Kal Tire Place.

Vernon native Matt Kowalski turned hometown hero, scoring at 16:56 of the third overtime period to give the Vernon Vipers a 4-3 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in B.C. Hockey League Interior Conference quarterfinal action in front of 2,394 fans at Kal Tire Place.

The goal was Kowalski’s third of the series and eliminated Salmon Arm as the Vipers win the opening round series four games to one to advance to the conference semifinals.

Three of the five games in the series were decided in overtime.

It’s the second straight years the Vipers have eliminated the Gorillas in the first round.

Kowalski drove to the net and beat Salmon Arm goalie Ethan Lengenegger with a backhand shot under the crossbar to end the 4 hour 21 minute marathon.

Hudson Schandor had a chance to end the game early in the sixth period for Salmon Arm, sneaking behind the Vipers defence to receive a pass and go in clear on Vipers goalie Aidan Porter. Schandor went to a deke and had the puck bounce over his stick.

Langenegger did everything he could to force a Game 6 Saturday back in Salmon Arm, as he finished with 52 saves, including 20 in overtime. Porter matched Langenegger save for save in overtime, finishing with 22 saves after regulation and 49 for the game.

RELATED: Vipers hang on to early lead to make playoff series 3-1 against Silverbacks

The Vipers opened the Game 5 scoring just 53 seconds after the national anthem when Logan Cash tapped in a crease pass from Lansdell past Langenegger.

The Gorillas tied it on their first shot on goal at 2:58 when Andy Stevens beat Porter with a shot off the goal post.

Salmon Arm matched their goal output from the previous three games with a pair of second-period markers from Andy Stevens – his third of the series – at 4:42 and Shaw at 10:36.

Vernon tied the game with two goals two minutes apart from defencemen Young and Jack Judson at 1:27 and 3:27.

RELATED: Vernon Vipers draw Salmon Arm Silverbacks

The Vipers now get some time off to find out who they’ll play in Round 2 starting March 15.

The seventh-seeded Trail Smoke Eaters finished off their first-round upset of the second-ranked Merritt Centennials Friday, beating the hometown Cents 4-2 to win the series in five games.

West Kelowna Warriors, seeded sixth, took a 3-2 lead in their opening round series with the defending champion Wenatchee Wild, beating the visiting Wild 4-2 Friday. The series shifts back to Washington state for the duration.

The eight-seeded crossover Cowichan Valley Capitals, from the Island Division, look to wrap up one of the biggest playoff upsets in league history Saturday when they visit the Interior Conference’s top-ranked Penticton Vees. The Caps lead the series 3-1.

The only team the Vipers can’t face in the conference semifinals is Penticton.

In the Mainland Division, the regular season champion and defending RBC Cup winners, Chilliwack Chiefs, stayed alive for a third straight game against Langley Friday, beating the hometown Rivermen 3-2 in overtime on an unassisted goal from Jacques Bouquot, his third of the night. Game 7 is in Chilliwack on Sunday.

The Prince George Spruce Kings advanced to the Division final, downing the Coquitlam Express in five games.

The top two teams in the Island Division will meet in the division final. The pennant-winning Victoria Grizzlies swept the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in four games, and the Powell River Kings beat the Nanaimo Clippers in five games.

BCHLSalmon Arm Silverbacks

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(Katherine Peters - Morning Star)

(Katherine Peters - Morning Star)

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