Playoff fate rests on 'Bellies final two games

Between a rock and a hard place, the New Westminster Salmonbellies will continue to focus on what is most important in their last week of play.

By winning both games this week, the local crew would secure a playoff berth into the Western Lacrosse Association playoffs – but by the skin of their teeth.

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On the heels of Thursday’s hard-luck 11-10 loss to the Burnaby Lakers, New West is on the outside of the top-four spots with just a pair of games to play.

Those two games – Wednesday in Langley, and Thursday when they host the Victoria Shamrocks at Queen’s Park Arena (7 p.m.) – are make-or-break moments for a team that has struggled with consistency.

They spent a huge part of Thursday in chase mode, as the visiting Lakers rolled out to a 3-0 lead, starting with Robert Church’s opening goal just 42 seconds into the contest. Although New West would reply with three tallies of their own to deadlock the game 3-3, Church again countered with a goal 1:24 later to make it 4-3 after 20 minutes.

In the middle frame Burnaby out-scored New West 3-2, but the ‘Bellies made an impressive push after falling behind by three late in the frame. With netminder Alexis Buque on the bench for an extra attacker, Austin Shanks took a centring pass in the high slot of hit the bottom corner behind Laker goalie Eric Penney with just one second left in the period.

It gave New West a boost which carried over into the third, where Lyndon Bunio made it a one-goal game 34 seconds into the frame, and saw Brandon Goodwin net the equalizer at 7:22.

But the Lakers proved unshakeable, as they replied just 1:52 later on Dean Fairall’s second of the night, and would stay one- or two-goals ahead the rest of the way. Playing a game of catch-up appeared to wear the ‘Bellies down, as Burnaby held the lead for all but 2:58 of the game.

Keegan Bal continued his torrid pace with two goals and five assists, while Mitch Jones also tallied twice and set up three others. Shanks finished with four points, while Jordan McBride, Darryl Robertson and Logan Schuss also scored.

The Lakers were led by Church, who posted an 11-point night, including five goals, while Dane Stevens finished with two goals and five assists.

Penney turned aside 42 shots, as New West outshot the Lakers 52-47. And while the Queen’s Park crew is leading the league by a longshot with 180 goals over 16 games, it’s producing the number of big goals at the right time that have been lacking.

At 9-7-0, the ‘Bellies find themselves two points back of both Nanaimo and Burnaby and four points trailing Victoria and Maple Ridge. Among the playoff teams, New West holds the tiebreaker on only Nanaimo, having won two of their three contests (their lone loss to the Timbermen was also a forfeiture, due to use of an ineligible player).

New West actually could get into the playoffs by just winning one of their two games, but it would also leave their fate up to Nanaimo losing its final game of the regular season in Burnaby on Friday.

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