It was an ending that no one from the Chiefs envisioned, but it happened. After leading their series with Portland 2-0 in their best of 7 opening round WHL playoff series with two wins in Portland, Spokane lost four of the next five, with all four of them at home, to fall 4-3 in the series. It was certainly far short of what the team had expected to be a deep playoff run this season.
The series started to turn Portland's way in game three, when the Hawks took a 2-1 decision to bring themselves within 2-1 in the series. After a scoreless first period in which goalie James Reid turned aside 23 shots, Portland would take the lead 1-0 on a Nino Neiderreitter one timer at 5:22 of the second period.
Spokane would draw even at the 12:20 mark as Kyle Beach stole the puck inside the blue line and snapped it home for his third goal in three games. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Portland would net the game winner with just four minutes left as Troy Rutkowski scored from the right circle. Spokane gave up 42 shots through two periods and a season high 49 on the game. Reid was the only reason the team was in the game and it was a shame to waste such a good game in net.
The Chiefs looked to bounce back in game four, but a poor start doomed Spokane as the Hawks took a 3-0 lead in the second on their way to a 4-2 win to even the series at 2-2. A bad Chiefs turnover in their own zone led to Luke Walker getting wide open in the slot and he scored just 6:15 in to make it 1-0 Portland. Walker's linemate Chris Francis scored on a rush down the left wing at 12:26 to make it 2-0 Portland. Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter then pulled Reid and backup Michael Tadjdeh finished up the rest of the first period.
Francis would victimize Reid again at 7:26 of the second to get the Hawks up 3-0. Spokane would finally get on the board as a Tyler Johnson power play goal on a backhander from the right goal line at 11:19 of the second would get the Chiefs within 3-1 after two.
Neidereitter would put Portland up 4-1 just 4:09 into the third as he deked a Chiefs defender to put one home from the slot. Spokane would then get a huge break as Portland's Taylor Jordan would be whistled for a five minute major for charging Reid at 4:35. Spokane scored just six seconds into the at will power play as Kyle Beach scored from the left circle to make it a 4-2 game. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they squandered the remaining 4:54 of the power play, and Portland skated off with the 4-2 win.
Game five seemed like what Yogi Berra once said was 'Deja Vu all over again.' The Chiefs fell behind 2-0 after one as Riley Boychuk scored off a faceoff just 1:14 in, and then Walker got his second in as many nights at 17:48. Portland then got a power play goal from Ryan Johansen at 11:29 of the second to take a 3-0 lead after two.
Spokane finally woke up in the third as Jared Cowen's rebound goal on the power play at 6:08 of the period got the Chiefs within 3-1. Johansen would then extend the lead for Portland just over two minutes later to give the Hawks a 4-1 lead.
Mitch Wahl would take a Kyle Beach pass in the slot and score at 13:07 of the third to bring Spokane within 4-2. Beach would score netfront while the Chiefs net was empty in the final minute, but Spokane drew no closer as Portland swept three straight in Spokane to take a 3-2 series lead. What once looked like a series ending quickly was now finding the Chiefs fighting for their playoff lives.
I knew game six in Portland was going to be a different outcome when the Chiefs actually scored first in the game for the first time in the series. Beach's power play goal from the left circle 5:54 in gave Spokane their first lead in a first period in six games. Levko Koper then netted his first of the playoffs midway thorough the first to give Spokane a 2-0 lead after one.
Rutkowski would score just 4:21 into the second period on the power play to bring Portland within 2-1, but the Chiefs would answer as Kenton Miller got his third of the playoffs, all in Portland, at 6:01 to make it 3-1 Spokane. Walker would score in his third straight game at 10:36 to make it 3-2 Chiefs, but Spokane would come back once again, as Koper finished off a 2-1 break with Tyler Johnson to give the Chiefs a 4-2 lead after two. It turned out to be the game winner, as Neiderreiter scored just over 6 minutes into the third to bring Portland within 4-3. Reid would turn away the other 13 shots by the Hawks in the period, none bigger than Walker's shot out net front with just 1:48 left to preserve the win.
The win meant the home team had gone 0-6 in the series. It also meant the Chiefs had a chance to finally win at home and advance to the conference semi's. Game 7 started just like game six for Spokane as the Chiefs jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one. Tyler Johnson scored from the right circle just 3:36 in to make it 1-0. Mitch Wahl then scored from the left circle after a brilliant individual move at 11:03 to push the lead to 2-0.
Wahl then snapped a shot from the left circle at 3:31 of the second to give the Chiefs their biggest lead of the series at 3-0. Just when it looked like the Chiefs had the game under control, Spokane let Portland back in it. Neidereitter scored at 7:03 of the period to make it a 3-1 game. Then Reid bobbled a shot from the right circle, coughed it up in the goal mouth, and Johansen put it home at 17:07 to bring Portland within 3-2 after two.
The Chiefs seemed to take control of the game back when Wahl found Beach out netfront at 6:50 of the third period to make it 4-2 Spokane. Then once again the Chiefs let off the gas offensively and Reid made two major mistakes.
The first was on a routine shot from the right wing, which Reid dropped and Riley Boychuk put home at 9:45 of the third to make it 4-3 Spokane. Then the unthinkable happened again, as Reid coughed up yet another shot from his glove and Walker scored at 13:24 to tie the game at four. Meantime, the Spokane offense only generated 6 shots in the third period, and the Chiefs found themselves going to overtime tied at four.
Reid came out stronger in overtime, but unfortunately, the Chiefs offense did not, getting off just 5 shots in over 17 minutes of OT. Meantime, Portland took the confidence they gained late in the third, getting away 12 shots in overtime and winning it at 17:29 as the defense watched defenseman Taylor Aronson take the puck up ice and go down on the low wall and find a wide open Ty Rattie in the slot.
It was not only the toughest loss of the series, but of the season. A very tough way to end the season and something to dwell on the entire off season. Hopefully the boys who are coming back will learn a valuable lesson about playing 60 minutes.
The game marked the end of the careers of defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Brett Bartman and forward Ryan Letts, as they are all graduating 20-year-olds. 19-year-olds Kyle Beach, Mitch Wahl and Stephan Ulmer will move on to pro careers next season, and it's a good possibility that Tyler Johnson and Levko Koper will get the chance to do so as well. Jared Cowen will more than likely start next year with Ottawa, but there's always the chance he could return to Spokane later in the season.
The Chiefs won't have the cupboard bare though, as Blake Gal, Brady Brassart, Kenton Miller, Steve Kuhn, Matt Marantz, Dominick Uher, Anthony Bardaro, Mitch Holmberg and T.C. Cratsenberg return up front, while Corey Baldwin, Brendan Kichton, Tanner Mort and Garrett Leedahl are back on the blue line. Reid and Tadjdeh are both back in net, while Mike Aviani and Reid Gow, who played during December, will take on bigger roles with the team.
It's still hard to believe the season is over though, especially when so much was expected out of this veteran crew that had won a Memorial Cup two years ago. Hopefully the boys will learn the lessons from this first round loss and come out hungry next season.
Hope you've enjoyed the blogs this season, and I look forward to doing them again come September!