Hard to believe that it's the final week of the regular season, but here it is! I love playoff hockey and with the Chiefs firmly in a dogfight for the U.S. Division and Western Conference top spots, it will feel like the playoffs have already begun this week.
Spokane put themselves to where the last week of the season would mean something as the Chiefs won two of three games on their road trip last week, taking five of a possible six points. The Chiefs are now just four points behind division co-leaders Tri-City and Everett with four games remaining in the season.
The boys began their three game road swing in Kelowna last Wednesday against the defending league champion Rockets. The two teams slugged it out through a scoreless first period as the Chiefs only managed three shots on net in the first. Kelowna would jump out to a 1-0 lead just 33 seconds into the second period on a rebound goal net front.
Spokane would come back late in the period. After killing off a Rocket 5-3 power play, Mitch Wahl got a loose puck inside his blue line and hit Tyler Johnson in stride in the neutral zone for a breakaway. Johnson put home the shorthanded goal with a backhand to bring the Chiefs even at 1-1 after two.
The Chiefs had the chance to take the lead on the power play in the third, but Kelowna would return the favor with a Brandon McMillan short handed goal midway through the third to take a 2-1 lead. Once again the Chiefs would come back, as Brendan Kichton would score from the right circle on a rebound of a Jared Cowen shot at 10:52 to pull Spokane even at 2-2.
Neither team would score the rest of the way to force overtime. The first two minutes were played 3-3 after matching penalties, but neither team had a lot of gas left in the tank after a physical 60 minutes of hockey. The Chiefs and Rockets then headed to a shootout. The shootout was veryyy anti-climactic, as the Chiefs Kyle Beach and Mitch Wahl were both denied. Meantime the Rockets Geordie Wudrick and McMillan both scored and just a couple of minutes into the shootout, it was over, as Spokane suffered a 3-2 loss.
Spokane managed just 21 shots on net, but the penalty kill was outstanding, going 7-7 against a Rocket power play that was 8th in the league.
With the loss behind them, the boys headed to Portland for a huge division game with the Winterhawks. Spokane began the night just two points ahead of the Hawks for the final home ice advantage spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
So many times, the start of the game is so important in these type of contests, and this game proved no differently. The Chiefs jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead as Mitch Wahl fired a shot from the right circle just 4:56 into the contest into the upper right corner of the net for his 29th goal of the year. Beach would follow with his 49th goal of the year at 7:07 to make it 2-0 Spokane after the first period. Spokane put up 16 shots in the first to take control of the game.
The Chiefs would extend the lead to 3-0 lead 7:43 into the second as Kenton Miller sniped a shot from the right circle into the right corner of the net. Spokane killed off three Portland power plays in the period as Chiefs goalie James Reid was hardly tested through two periods.
The Chiefs defense continued to shine in the third, blanking Portland again, while Matt Marantz scored at 17:54 of the period to close out a 4-0 Spokane win. Reid picked up his 5th shutout of the year as the Spokane went four points ahead of the Hawks for the last home ice spot in the playoffs. With Portland sitting in the 5th spot, home ice could turn out to be an advantage for Spokane in that series, although Portland won all four games against the Chiefs at the Spokane Arena this year. Only time will tell.
Spokane then headed up I-5 to face the Seattle Thunderbirds for the final time this season. The Chiefs had beaten the T-Birds in six of the previous seven meetings, losing only in overtime in December when the Chiefs were without 6 of their top players. Spokane looked determined to make it seven of eight over Seattle as Blake Gal scored just 14 seconds into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. The goal looked like it was Kyle Beach's 50th of the season, but upon further review, it was determined Beach's shot went off of Gal, but when all was said and done, the Chiefs had a 1-0 lead.
Beach would make sure there was no doubt the next time he put a shot on net, as he rifled a shot from the left circle while the team was on their first power play at 8:25 of the period to give Spokane a 2-0 lead after one. The Chiefs controlled the period, outshooting Seattle 16-8 while killing off 3 T-Bird power plays.
In the second, neither team was able to score as Spokane locked down Seattle, giving up just one shot in the period and that came in the last minute. When Charles Wells put it on net, the crowd erupting into mock applause at the ShoWare Center.
In the third, the Chiefs took a 3-0 lead as Levko Koper hit Tyler Johnson in stride and Johnson put home his 33rd of the season top shelf at 6:45 of the period. Seattle would spoil the shutout after a Chiefs turnover at 17:56 of the third. Beach would finish off the win though with an empty net goal with 57 seconds remaining to cap a 4-1 Chiefs win. Spokane outshot Seattle 41-20 and ended up going 7-0-1 against the T-Birds on the season.
Now the task begins for Spokane in the race for the U.S. Division title. The week will begin with a rematch with Kelowna at the Spokane Arena Tuesday night at 7pm. The final weekend of the regular season will see the Chiefs in a home and home with division co-leader Tri-City. Spokane will host Tri Friday night and then travel to Kennewick Saturday night. Both games will start at 7pm. The Chiefs will then close out the regular season with the other division co-leader Everett, as Spokane hosts the Silvertips Sunday night at 6pm.
I'll have the call on all of the games on 1510 KGA. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, the pregame shows start at 6:30pm, while Sunday's pregame will be at 5:30pm.
It's the last chance to catch the boys during the regular season, so come on out and support the Chiefs! We'll see you at the rink.....