With just over a month remaining, and 20 games left in the regular season, the Chiefs were now hitting the crunch time of their 2016-17 campaign as they still found themselves on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff picture. Spokane was now 11 points back of the Portland Winterhawks for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West as the Hawks had ripped off 7 straight wins to move from 1 point up to 11. The Chiefs were now facing must wins this week to get themselves back in the race, and it certainly helped that the Winterhawks were the team they got to face in back to back games. Spokane knew they had to win both...and in regulation...to put themselves back in contention. A split would not gain any ground for the Chiefs, and they would lose two games in the standings to catch Portland.
The week would start with the Chiefs hosting Portland on Wednesday at the Spokane Arena. Spokane had gone 0-2 at home with Portland, losing a pair of one goal games in October and November. The Chiefs had split back to back games in the Rose City the last time the teams had met, losing a 5-4 decision on January 13th, but rebounding for a 6-5 win the next night. Things didn't start well for the Chiefs on Wednesday, as a bad bounce off the wall left Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill behind the net, and puck in front for Portland's Colton Veloso, who tapped it in the empty goal just under 5 minutes in to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Spokane would draw even with Ethan McIndoe scored from the left wing at 8:57 to make it a 1-1 game. Portland's Alex Overhardt scored a power play goal 11 minutes in to give the lead back to the Winterhawks at 2-1, but Spokane would get back when Alex Mowbray scored a short handed goal late in the first to send the game to the second tied at two.
The Chiefs would take their first lead when Hayden Ostir scored his 6th of the year at 12:46 to give Spokane a 3-2 advantage. Portland would come back with less than 4 minutes left in the second on a Brendan De Jong goal to send the game to the third tied at three. The Hawks Skyler McKenzie would score on a rebound at 3:21 giving the lead back to Portland at 4-3. The Chiefs countered when Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored for the 5th straight game with his 29th of the year at 7:05 to bring Spokane to a 4-4 tie. That goal ignited the Chiefs offensively, as Eli Zummack gave Spokane the lead, for good as it turned out, at 10:04 to make it 5-4. Keanu Yamamoto then found Tyson Helgesen open on the weakside a minute later for a huge insurance goal as the Chiefs took a 6-4 lead. They would need that goal, as Portland got another Overhardt power play goal with their net empty for a two man advantage at 18:07 to bring the Hawks within 6-5. Portland would get another power play chance at the end of that goal and would pull their goalie again for another 6 on 4 advantage, but the Chiefs penalty kill held off the league's 3rd rated power play unit to hang on for the 6-5 'must' win.
The victory pulled the Chiefs 9 points back of Portland in the playoff race, but the big challenge now awaited Spokane as the team headed to the Rose City for the second half of the home and home series. For the first time, the teams would meet at the Rose Garden...named for the time being in the corporate arena buy of the season, the Moda Center. I love the new arena as it is such a better place to work a game. The Chiefs seemed to like the new digs too, as Hudson Elyniuk, just back from injury, scored a little over 5 minutes in to put Spokane ahead 1-0. The Chiefs had a chance to extend the lead on the power play, but instead coughed up a short handed goal to Cody Glass of Portland at 15:06 as the game was tied at one. Spokane came right back though, as Taylor Ross tipped in an Alex Mowbray shot 44 seconds later to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one.
The Chiefs extended the lead in the second, as Keanu Yamamoto scored a power play goal just over 3 minutes in to put Spokane up by two at 3-1. Portland would cut the margin to 3-2 on a goal just over 5 minutes into the period, but the Chiefs would re-take a two goal lead when Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored a goal in his 6th straight game to make it 4-2 after two periods. Anderson-Dolan's streak is the longest current one in the league, and the two goal lead had me feeling pretty good about things, as Spokane had dropped just one game when leading after two periods all season. That game was a one goal margin, and the Chiefs had not blown a two goal lead all year. All streaks are meant to be broken though, and so would this one on this night. Portland out shot the Chiefs 20-5 in the third, and Joachim Blichfeld scored on two rebounds in the period to pull the Winterhawks even at 4 apiece. Goalie Dawson Weatherill secured the point with a huge save in the final seconds for Spokane as the teams went to overtime.
In the OT, Spokane outshot Portland 5-2 but failed to get the winner. For the second time, the two teams went to a shootout. Blichfeld scored in round one to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead, and the Chiefs failed to score in any of the three rounds as Portland knocked off Spokane in a shootout for the second time this season. The loss is a toughhh one, as the Chiefs lose a point to Portland in the standings and now are 10 points back of the Winterhawks for the final playoff spot. Spokane will not play Portland again until March 10th, so there will be no head to head opportunities to make up ground. The fact is, the Chiefs only gained a point in two meetings, and that kind of progress will not get Spokane into the playoffs. Now the team had to re-group as they headed home to face a Tri City team that had beaten the Chiefs 6 of 7 meetings this season, including 5 straight. Tri City was coming off a 6-2 loss in Seattle on Friday, so hopefully Spokane would still catch Tri on the down side as the two teams met at the Spokane Arena on Saturday.
The Chiefs would go on the power play early as Tri City committed back to back penalties in the first 3 minutes of the game. Spokane would convert on a 5 on 3 as Kailer Yamamoto scored his team leading 31st of the season at 2:28 to give the Chiefs a quick 1-0 lead. Kailer's brother Keanu would then score on the 5 on 4 advantage at 3:09 to make it 2-0 and the Chiefs would hold the lead through the end of the period. Spokane would expand the margin in the second when Ethan McIndoe scored his 13th of the season at 7:55 to push the lead to 3-0. McIndoe would strike again at 10:16 for his second of the game, and his second multi-goal game against Tri this season to give the Chiefs a seemingly commanding 4-0 lead heading into the third. Tri City had other ideas, as the Americans would score 3 goals on 6 shots in the third to cut the lead to 4-3. Starting goalie Jayden Sittler was then replaced by Dawson Weatherill, who held the fort the rest of the way as Tri pulled their goalie in the final two minutes, but were unable to get the equalizer. Spokane held on for the 4-3 win to beat the Americans for the first time since the Chiefs home opener on October 1st.
The win was even bigger when Portland lost in Seattle, so the Chiefs moved within 8 points of the Winterhawks for the final playoff spot in the West. Now the challenge begins for Spokane, as the team heads out on a grueling 4 game road trip this next week. The Chiefs will start with back to back games in Prince George against the top team in the West in the Cougars. Spokane will then play Kelowna and Tri City in back to back road contests next weekend to finish off the swing. It will be a supreme challenge for a team trying to play their way back into the playoff picture. I'll have the call for all 4 games on 1510 KGA. Monday's game will be an afternoon tilt in PG, with the pre-game at 1:30pm and the puck drop at 2pm. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday's games will have the pre-game at 6:30pm and the puck drops at 7:05pm. Let's hope the Chiefs keep their playoff hopes going and we hope to see you on the radio!