After seeing their playoff hopes crippled with two tough losses at Victoria, the Chiefs headed back to the Mainland to finish off their 4 game road trip with Seattle on Tuesday night. Spokane was 12 points back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West with just 8 games left, so the Chiefs knew they had to pretty much win out or their 10 year streak of making the post season would come to an end. The magic number for being eliminated was down to 3 for the Chiefs, meaning any combination of Portland wins or Spokane losses in regulation equaling 3 would eliminate the team from playoff consideration. The Thunderbirds were in a playoff fight of their own, having put themselves towards the top of the U.S. Division and the Western Conference races by going on a tear over the last month and a half. Seattle was just one point back of Everett for the U.S. lead and one behind the Silvertips and Prince George for the top spot in the West.
Spokane had lost 3 in a row to the Thunderbirds, with the last loss a 3-2 overtime defeat at home back on January 18th. Seattle had won 5 of 8 in the 10 game regular season series, so the Chiefs knew they had to sweep the last two games to come away with a split against the T-Birds this season. Spokane looked ready to end the streak early, as Hudson Elyniuk scored his third goal in his last two games just under 6 minutes into the game to give Spokane an early 1-0 lead. Seattle would counter as they scored on their first power play chance midway through the first to even the game at one. The Thunderbirds then scored again just 1:37 later to take the lead for good at 2-1. Seattle then got a back breaking goal with just 29 seconds left in the period to cap a three goal first and grabbing a 3-1 advantage after twenty minutes.
The Chiefs would out shoot the Thunderbirds 18-6 in the second, but would fail to find the net. Failing to take advantage of that opportunity would come back to haunt Spokane in the third as the T-Birds would score two goals in the first 6.5 minutes of the period to put the game on ice at 5-1. The Chiefs would get a consolation goal in the final minute when Kailer Yamamoto scored his team leading 37th of the season on the team's first penalty shot goal of the year to finish off a 5-2 defeat. Seattle has now beaten Spokane 4 straight and clinched the season series with their 6th win in 9 meetings with the Chiefs. Even more damaging was the Chiefs remained 12 points back of Portland for the final playoff berth with just 7 games left. That meant a Spokane loss the next night at home to Everett and a Portland win over Prince George would officially eliminate the Chiefs from the playoffs for this year.
With that in mind, the Chiefs endured a longgg overnight ride over a snowy Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle to face the Silvertips the next night at the Spokane Arena. Spokane had just knocked off the Silvertips the previous Wednesday in Everett, so the Chiefs knew the Tips were anxious to return the favor on the Chiefs home ice. Spokane knew they had to be sharp...and that didn't prove to be the case early on. Pavel Kousal's ill advised pass net front was stolen by Everett's Cal Babych and he scored 5:48 into the game to give the Silvertips a 1-0 edge. Everett would then score midway through the period on a blown defensive coverage and Devon Skoleski slid in the easy rebound to make it 2-0 Everett after one. The Chiefs managed just 5 shots in the first, and it didn't get better in the second.
Former Chief Dominic Zwerger scored on a partial breakaway less than 5 minutes into the second to extend the Tips lead to 3-0. Everett would go up 4-0 less than a minute and a half later on an Aaron Irving shot off a Chiefs skate and the competitive phase of this contest was practically over. Spokane had a couple of open net chances in the period, but clanged the shots off the post as the Chiefs only managed another 5 shots in the middle 20 minutes. The Chiefs looked like a tired club in the third, as the team managed only 17 shots on the night in getting blanked for just the third time this year, 4-0. Spokane split the 8 game season series with the U.S. Division leaders, a positive outcome for the young Chiefs. The bad news was not only had the Chiefs just lost their 4th straight, but found themselves eliminated from playoff consideration as Portland beat Prince George to wrap up the final spot in the post-season.
It's the first time since the 2005-06 season that the Chiefs will sit on the sidelines when the playoffs start in two weeks. In a twist of irony, Spokane welcomed the team that beat them out for the playoffs, the Portland Winterhawks, in game two of the Chiefs homestand on Friday night. Portland had won 4 in a row and had won 4 of 6 from Spokane this season, but every game had been decided by just one goal, with the last game going to a shootout in Portland in early February. With nothing at stake for either club, it was going to be interesting to see how the two teams came out in this one. It was Portland that would come out on the offensive in the first period, as a Cody Glass goal off a rebound gave the Winterhawks a 1-0 lead after one. Portland out shot the Chiefs 15-6 in the period, but Spokane kept it within one after killing off a 5 on 3 power play for a minute in the first.
The Chiefs would draw back even early in the second as Kailer Yamamoto scored his team leading 38th of the season to make it a 1-1 game heading to the third. Spokane goalie Jayden Sittler was busy through two, turning aside 30 of 31 shots. In the third, Portland would break the deadlock on a Caleb Jones goal midway through the period. Glass would score his second of the night on a power play tally at 14:04 to seemingly put the game away at 3-1. With the Hawks on the power play again late in the game, the Chiefs would strike back as Taylor Ross scored a short handed goal off an Alex Mowbray pass at 16:33 to bring Spokane back into the game at 3-2. The Chiefs pulled Sittler in the final minute and a half, but a turnover would lead to an empty net goal for Portland in the final half minute to wrap up a 4-2 win for the Hawks. The loss was a season high 5th straight for Spokane, as the Chiefs lost for the first time by multiple goals to Portland. Spokane has now lost 5 of 7 to the Winterhawks this season, and the Chiefs record within the U.S. Division fell to a meager 11-23 on the season. When the Chiefs look back at the major reason they missed the playoffs this year, they can look no further than their abysmal mark within their own division.
Spokane would step out of the division in their final game of the week, but the opponent didn't get any easier, as the Chiefs hosted B.C. Division leading Prince George on Saturday. The Cougars were coming off an impressive 6-1 thrashing of Tri City the night before at Tri, and were in a dog fight for the top of their division, as they led Kelowna by just 2 points coming into Saturday's tilt at the Arena. Spokane had dropped 2 of 3 to PG this season, including a 7-2 mauling handed out by the Cougars in the two teams last meeting up in Prince George in mid-February. Saturday's first period looked like a continuation of the third period in the two squads last match up. Prince George would light the lamp three times in the final 7 minutes of the opening frame to take a 3-0 lead after one. The Cougars out shot Spokane 16-7 in the period as it looked like the game would be over by the end of the second.
The Chiefs fought back in the middle period though, as they held PG off the scoreboard in the second. Unfortunately for Spokane, they couldn't find the net either as a couple of attempts hit off the cross bar and post.The team headed to the third down three, and it looked like the Chiefs 6th straight loss was just 20 minutes away. Spokane came out in the third though and scored just 57 seconds into the period on a Jaret Anderson-Dolan power play goal to cut the margin to 3-1. The momentum of that goal was stifled though when Prince George scored midway through the third to take a 4-1 advantage. Spokane came right back on the power play as Kailer Yamamoto notched his team leading 39th of the year at 13:39 to cut the lead to 4-2. The Chiefs then pulled goalie Jayden Sittler and scored with the extra attacker as Hudson Elyniuk put home his 26th of the season with 1:13 remaining to make it a 4-3 contest. Spokane then got a power play in the final minute and pulled Sittler again to get a 6 on 4 advantage. The Chiefs looked to tie the game in the waning seconds but Keanu Yamamoto's shot was stabbed by the glove of Cougars goalie Nick McBride as the horn sounded as Prince George held on for a 4-3 victory.
The comeback in the third sparks some promise for the team to snap their season high 6 game losing streak as they head into the final week of the regular season. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Chiefs as they end the year with a home game against the U.S. Division leading Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday, and then play a home and home with Tri City with the Chiefs traveling to Kennewick on Friday and playing their final home game Saturday before ending the year at Portland on Sunday. Spokane has lost 6 of 9 to Seattle, 8 of 10 to Tri City and 5 of 7 to Portland this season, so if the Chiefs are going to snap their 6 game skid, they will have to play at the top of their game. Besides the obvious match up problems the Chiefs have had with these three teams, all three are in the middle of tight races for seeding in the Western Conference playoff picture, so they will not be scaling back who they play in the final week to rest for the playoffs. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for Wednesday's, Friday's and Sunday's games. Saturday's game will be on either 1510 or 790 KJRB depending on Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. Game times for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday will be 7:05pm with the puck drops at 6:30pm. Sunday's season finale from Portland will be a 4:30pm pre-game and 5:05pm puck drop. The Chiefs will get an opportunity to see how the young players slated to play next year will play in expanded roles, and I'll be anxious to see how they perform. It's the final chance to see the Chiefs this season, and we hope to see you at the rink!