The start of this second half of the season has been anything but easy for the Chiefs. The team entered their third straight week of 4 games in 5 nights two points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League. Twelve games in 3 weeks can take its' toll, and the team had gone 3-4-0-1 in the first two weeks to fall two points back of Portland, and 5 back of Seattle for the final 2 playoff spots in the West. With the first two weeks seeing the Chiefs play two at home and two on the road each week, this third week was going to find Spokane playing all 4 games on the road against division rivals. Game one would be in Everett against the division rival Silvertips, who were the third ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League poll. Spokane was 16 points back of the Tips in the division and were facing an Everett team that had won 17 of 21 games at home.
If there was one thing in the Chiefs favor, the Silvertips were without 4 of their top players, as goalie Carter Hart, and defensemen Noah Juulsen, Aaron Irving and Lucas Skrumeda were all out of the lineup. The Chiefs didn't start with a bang on Wednesday, putting up just 4 shots on the depleted Everett defense in the first period, but neither team was able to get on the scoreboard. The second period would see Everett turn up the pressure offensively, and it would pay off for the Tips as they would score just 2:40 in to take a 1-0 lead. The Silvertips would make it 2-0 on a Connor Dewar shot off a face-off win midway through the period and carry that advantage to the third period. Spokane would have a chance to get within one with their first power play opportunity early in the third, but a turnover led to a Devon Skoleski breakaway goal to make it 3-0 Silvertips.
That goal took the air out of the shrinking Chiefs balloon, and a power play goal 3.5 minutes later would take Spokane right out of the game at 4-0. Everett would put the contest on ice less than 4 minutes after that with their third goal of the period to close out a convincing 5-0 whitewash of the Chiefs. It was only the second time all season the team had been shut out, the first since losing 6-0 at Brandon in October. The loss still left the Chiefs 2 points back of Portland for the final berth in the post season, and left the weekend's games in the Rose City against the Winterhawks as theee most important of the year for Spokane. Let's face it. Two losses in regulation to Portland and the playoff hopes for this team were in serioussss danger. Spokane has seen little success against the Hawks this year, losing a pair of one goal games at the Spokane Arena earlier in the season. Now the team was needing at least one win in regulation to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. Portland had been hammered by a snow storm a couple of days earlier, so the travel into Portland was a little dicier than usual. The team made the journey just fine though and the two teams started their back to back series at the old Memorial Coliseum on Friday.
Things didn't start well for Spokane, as the Winterhawks scored on their first power play just over 5 minutes in to take a quick 1-0 lead. Despite being out shot 10-1 to start the game and 13-4 in the period, the Chiefs drew even at 1-1 on an Ethan McIndoe power play goal at 16:40. The tie didn't last long though, as Portland scored just 13 seconds later to take a 2-1 lead after one. That goal jump started the Hawks in the second, as they would score 3 unanswered goals in the first 13.5 minutes to take a huge 5-1 advantage. Spokane would cut the lead to 5-2 on Kailer Yamamoto's team leading 26th goal of the season at 18:06 to give the team a lift heading to the third. The Chiefs would dominate the third, out shooting Portland 16-8 and would cut into the lead further as McIndoe's second of the night would make it 5-3 at 11:54 of the period. Defenseman Nolan Reid then fired home his first goal as a Chief...and first of the year..at 13:19, as the Chiefs were right back into the game at 5-4.
Unfortunately for Spokane, that was as close as the Chiefs would get, as the team failed to score after pulling their goalie in the final minute and a half. The loss left the team 4 points back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West, and was the third straight one goal loss to the Winterhawks this season. The Chiefs are also 5 points behind Seattle, and with back to back games coming up against the Hawks and Thunderbirds the following two days, Spokane was looking at getting at least one win to realistically stay in the playoff hunt. The Chiefs were hoping that the strong third period they played would carry over to the next night. It looked like it had as Riley Woods scored on the team's first shot of the game 1:24 in to put Spokane ahead 1-0. Portland would tie the game just 31 seconds later on a Skyler McKenzie goal to make it 1-1. The Chiefs Jaret Anderson-Dolan would come right back with his first of the night to put Spokane ahead 2-1, and then Keanu Yamamoto netted the first of two on the game 54 seconds later to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after one. Spokane scored on 3 of their first 5 shots to put an end to the night for Portland goalie Cole Kehler.
The Chiefs didn't make it any better for back up Shane Farkas as Eli Zummack's power play goal early in the third expanded the team's lead to 4-1. Just when it looked like Spokane might blow this one open, the Winterhawks came roaring back as they scored 3 goals in just 2:50, capped by McKenzie's second of the game to tie the game at 4. Spokane answered back though, as Yamamoto scored his second of the night midway through the second to give the Chiefs a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes. Anderson-Dolan would net a huuugeee insurance goal midway through the third to put Spokane up 6-4 as his second of the game would prove to be the game winner. Portland score with the extra attacker in the final 2 minutes to draw within 6-5, but would get no closer as Dawson Weatherill turned aside 38 Portland shots to get the victory. The win was especially huge for Spokane, as the Chiefs drew back within 2 points of the Winterhawks for the final playoff spot in the West.
Spokane now headed up I-5 for their 4th game in 5 nights as they took on 3rd place Seattle late Sunday afternoon. Seattle had beaten Everett in overtime the night before and owned a 5 point lead over the Chiefs in the standings.
Spokane looked like a team playing their 4th game in 5 nights early against Seattle, as the Thunderbirds threw 2 past goalie Jayden Sittler in the first to lead 2-0 after one. Seattle would score again in the first 5 minutes of the second and it was suddenly 3-0 and it looked like the rout was on. Spokane bounced right back though as Hayden Ostir scored midway through the period to cut the deficit to 3-1. A Kailer Yamamoto power play goal 3:01 later suddenly gave the team life as Spokane had pulled within 3-2. That would be the highlight of the night though, as Seattle would score their second power play goal in as many attempts late in the second to lead it 4-2 after two. The Thunderbirds then put up 2 more goals in the first half of the third, including their third straight power play tally to take a commanding 6-2 lead. Spokane's Ondrej Najman scored his 3rd of the year with less than 6 minutes left to cut the margin to 6-3, and Yamamoto gave one last hurrah for the visitors with his second of the night in the final minute to cap a 6-4 Seattle victory.
The win was the 5th straight for Seattle and their 3rd in 4 games with Spokane in the second half. The Chiefs are now 7 points back of the T-Birds for 3rd in the division...and Seattle has 4 games in hand. Spokane is still 2 points back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West..and the Winterhawks also have 4 games in hand. Things are not looking very bright for Spokane to make the playoffs for the 11th straight season. The Chiefs have to get a run, and sooner than later, if they hope to make the post season. Spokane will return home for their final two home games in January as they host Seattle on Wednesday and Kootenay on Saturday. The Chiefs will finish off the week with a road contest at first place Everett on Sunday. Wednesday and Sunday's games will be broadcast on 1510 KGA, while Saturday's contest will be on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga game. I'll have the call Wednesday and Saturday with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm and the puck drops at 7:05pm. Sunday's game will be a 4:30pm pre-game and 5:05pm puck drop from Everett. Let's hope the boys have a big week in them and we hope to see you at the rink!