After almost a month on the outside looking in, the Merritt Centennials have clawed their way back into the playoff picture as the BCHL enters the final quarter of its regular- season schedule.

The Cents took over the fourth and final playoff spot in the league’s Interior division following a convincing 4-1 victory over the visiting Vernon Vipers in front of just over 500 fans at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena on Tuesday night.

Forward Jeff Wights’ 16th and 17th goals of the season (the second into an empty net) paced the Centennials to their third win in five games against the Vipes this season.

Other Merritt goal scorers were red-hot rookie Adam Tracey (with his third in six games) and Diego Cuglietta.

Ryan Renz’s unassisted point shot in the third period was the only Viper puck to beat Merritt’s starting netminder Devin Kero, who had another solid outing in turning aside 21 of 22 opposition shots.

At the other end of the ice, losing netminder Austin Smith allowed three goals on 33 Centennials’ shots sent his way.

The Tuesday night tilt between the Cents and Snakes marked the first opportunity for Merritt fans to see 20-year-old defenceman Jason Bird in a Cents’ uniform since the Toronto native was acquired by the Centennials from Vernon in the first week of January.

A veteran of over 100 BCHL games, Bird looked great paired with Shane Poulsen on the backend.

The other two Cents’ blueline combinations — Dane Birks with Tyler Martin and Wayland Williams alongside Jake Clifford — also had strong games as Merritt effectively shut down Vernon’s potent offense.

Tuesday’s game also marked the return of former Centennial Dylan Chanter to the Nicola Valley arena for the first time since his departure from the team at the end of last season.

Chanter, who had been playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, had his CAHL rights traded to Vernon in the deal that sent Bird to Merritt.

The Cents had a busy weekend of hockey leading up to Tuesday night as they played two games on Vancouver Island.

Friday, the Centennials battled back from a pair of two-goal deficits to defeat the Nanaimo Clippers 4-3. Scoring for Merritt were Williams, Sam Johnson, Scotty Patterson and Daniel Nachbaur.

Saturday, in Victoria, the Island division-leading Grizzlies scored three times with the man advantage to defeat the Cents 4-2. Only Birks and Sebastien Paré were able to beat Victoria netminder Alec Dillon.

The Cents-Grizzlies showdown was an ornary affair with two sets of fighting majors and a total of 70 minutes in penalties called.

The Cents return to action this Friday when they entertain the Penticton Vees on home ice, starting at 7:30 p.m.