Well here it is, the time of year all players and fans gear up for, the playoffs! The Chiefs go into the post season on a bit of a roll, having won 8 of their last 10, including 3 of 4 in the final week of the regular season.
Spokane knew they needed to win all 4 games last week to have a shot at finishing as the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs as they began the week hosting the defending league champion Kelowna Rockets.
The Chiefs took a 1-0 lead after one as Kyle Beach put home his league leading 52nd goal of the season on a snap shot from the slot midway through the period. Blake Gal set up the play by winning the puck along the boards in front of the Chiefs bench and getting the puck to a wide open Beach in the middle of the ice.
Spokane would extend the lead pretty darn quickly in the second, as Levko Koper took a Tyler Johnson pass down the left wing and snapped one past Guggenberger just 27 seconds in to make it 2-0 Chiefs. Kelowna would answer with a power play goal at 5:39, but Spokane would come back late in the period with 2 goals that would put the game away. Off of a 4-4 situation, Mitch Wahl would take the puck the length of the ice with a beautiful move inside the Kelowna blue line past a Rocket defenseman and then dished the puck to an open Blake Gal on the far post to make it 3-1 Spokane. Stephan Ulmer would then fire in a shot from the slot on the power play at 19:22 to give the Cheifs a 4-1 lead after two.
Kenton Miller's redirect of a Brett Bartman shot from the left blue line would get the Chiefs ahead 5-1 midway through the third period. Kelowna would add a goal to complete the scoring, but the Chiefs put themselves in position with a 5-2 win to set up a showdown with first place Tri City Friday.
It became apparent early on that the Chiefs were a bit tight for their biggest game of the season. Passes were either a bit ahead or behind players, pucks drifted off of sticks, while other passes hit the tape and bounced off. Spokane took a too many men on the ice penalty early in the first period and Tri took advantage with a power play goal to take a 1-0 lead.
Spokane would tie the game on their first power play attempt of the game as Blake Gal rebounded a shot net front 13 minutes into the period to even the contest at one. The Chiefs would give the lead back up early in the second as a turnover in the offensive zone while Spokane was on the power play would lead to a shorthanded goal by Tri off a 2-1 rush to make it 2-1 Ams. The Chiefs Brett Bartman would bring Spokane back even at 11:03 on a slap shot from the blue line to make it a 2-2 game.
Tri would re-take the lead on a power play goal late in the second to take a 3-2 lead after two. Once again, the Chiefs would come back to tie, as Tyler Johnson's shot from the left circle on the power play at 5:33 of the third would bring Spokane into a 3-3 game.
Unfortunately for Spokane, Tri would put home a rebound at 12:23 of the third and hold on for a 4-3 win. The Chiefs had a power play in the final 1:34 and pulled goalie James Reid for a 6-4 advantage in the final 30 seconds, but could not score as the Chiefs were eliminated from winning the U.S. Division and with it, the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It was a bitter loss for Spokane and snapped a 5 game winning streak against their arch rivals from Tri.
The good thing for the Chiefs is they had a chance to get revenge the very next night as they travelled to Kennewick to face the Americans. A win by Spokane and the Chiefs would prevent Tri from clinching the top spot in the playoffs. Spokane had won 3 of 5 in Tri, farrr and away the best success any team had enjoyed against the Ams on their home ice.
The Chiefs made it very apparent early that the loss the night before was in the past, as Tyler Johnson took a Levko Koper face off win at the top of the right circle and snapped it inside the far post just 56 seconds in to give Spokane a very quick 1-0 lead. That lead would hold up through the first, as the Chiefs killed off 4 straight Tri power plays in the period.
Mitch Wahl's shot from the left goal line 3:15 into the second would give Spokane a 2-0 lead. Tri would come right back on a goal at 5:40 to narrow the margin to 2-1. The Chiefs would re-establish the two goal lead at 9:35 when Corey Baldwin's seeing eye wrister fromt the left blue line went in and Spokane held a 3-1 lead after two. Spokane reallyyyy played well through two periods and had me wondering why the boys had not put that together the previous evening.
Tri would come out and score just 1:53 into the third to cut the Chiefs lead to 3-2. Then the defining moment of the game occured at 7:17 when Tri's Tyler Schmidt collided with the Chiefs Kyle Beach at center ice. Schmidt hit Beach's right knee, knocking him out of the game. Schmidt would be given a 5 minute major and a game misconduct and gave Spokane a 5 minute power play. The Chiefs, despite losing their leading goal scorer on the power play, would tally twice in less than 2 minutes to take a three goal lead.
Anthony Bardaro's shot from the right circle put Spokane up 4-2 at 8:52 of the third. Then Kenton Miller tipped a Jared Cowen shot from the point at 10:38 to make it 5-2 Spokane.
Just when it looked like the Chiefs would have a fairly easy win in Tri, which doesn't happen veryy often, the referees decided to keep the fans interested by whistling the Chiefs for back to back minor penalties just 19 seconds apart late in the third. The roughing call to Cowen, the first penalty called, was horrible. The next to Brett Bartman for a cross check wasn't great, but I could actually see that one being called after a mad scramble net front.
Tri would then score two goals in 13 seconds on 6-3 and 6-4 advantages with their goalie pulled to suddenly make it a game 5-4. The Chiefs didn't break though, as they would force a penalty with a 1:24 left after Tri pulled their goalie again and secure the win while Spokane was on the power play for the rest of the game.
It's too bad the penalty kill gave up the two late goals, as that unit was outstanding for Spokane, going 5-5 through 2 periods until the two goals by Tri in the final 3 minutes of play. The win was sweet indeed, preventing Tri from clinching the U.S. Division on their home ice like they had two years previous in the next to last game of the regular season.
Now the Everett Silvertips had the chance to clinch the top spot with a win over the Chiefs in the regular season finale on Sunday. Once again, the Chiefs could play the role of spoiler.
Spokane got off to another good start, as Johnson would score the opening goal for a second straight night. While the Chiefs were on their first power play, Brady Brassart's shot from the left circle was deflected by Johnson at 12:20 of the first period to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after one.
Everett would tie the game in the second at 6:08, but Spokane would re-take the lead on the power play just over two minutes later. Johnson's shot was purposely shot wide left, hitting the end wall and coming out to a wide open Jared Spurgeon in the right circle at 8:12 of the period to make it 2-1 Spokane. The Silvertips would tie the game back up late in the second though, as Tyler Maxwell's breakaway evened the game at 2 after two periods.
The Chiefs would take over the third though, as they outshot Everett 13-7 and would notch the game winner midway through the period, as Mitch Holmberg snapped a turn around shot from the left circle at 9:47 of the third to give Spokane the 3-2 win. Spokane was excellent on special teams, going 2-5 on the power play and 3-3 on the penalty kill.
Even more importantly, the team got the win without their leading goal scorer Kyle Beach, who was on crutches after his knee injury the night before, and without Ryan Letts, who left on a knee to knee hit in the second period. To get the win against a team the Chiefs struggled against most of the season series, in a game that Everett absolutely wanted to send to overtime to win the U.S. Division crown, was a huge boost for the Chiefs going into the playoffs.
Now the post-season begins. The big question now is, will Beach be ready by Saturday's game one vs. Portland? Beach sat out practice Tuesday, as his knee will be evaluated by doctors Wednesday. The hope is that there's no ligament damage and that rehabilitation will have Beach back in the lineup by Wednesday's game three at the latest. The same diagnosis for Ryan Letts as well. Hopefully both will be back on the ice by this weekend in Portland, but if not, the team should have them by the time the series comes back to Spokane. Getting those two back would be huge for the Chiefs, as they have been playing their best hockey of the season over the last month and a half.
The series against Portland will be a dandy. Trust me. The Winter Hawks took the season series 5-3, but most of those games came from October to December. Portland gives the Chiefs trouble because they are a big, physical team. Spokane has shown though, that when they skate hard and use their speed, they create problems for Portland's defense. It will be interesting to see who dictates the play in this series early on, especially if Beach is out of the Chiefs lineup.
Despite Spokane having home ice advantage, the series will begin in Portland as the Arena is tied up with the NCAA tournament. Game one will be Saturday at 7pm in the Rose Garden in Portland, with game two Sunday at 5pm. The series will then return to Spokane for games 3,4, and 5 the following Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
I'll have the call for game one beginning at 6:30 Saturday night on 1510AM KGA, with game two set for Sunday's pregame at 4:30pm.
Here's to playoff hockey, and we'll see you on the radio!