Entering the final week of the regular season, the Chiefs found themselves still in 5th place in the Western Conference playoff race, but their lead over Everett had been cut to one point over the hard charging Silvertips. Spokane also found themselves 4 points back of 4th place Seattle with just 4 games left in the season, so anything less than a 3-1 week would leave the Chiefs no chance to catch the Thunderbirds for the final home ice spot in the first round. The nice thing for Spokane is that they would play Seattle and Everett in back to back nights to start the week, so back to back wins would go a longgg ways towards getting Spokane up the standings.
First up were the Thunderbirds, who had handed Spokane 7 straight losses in as many games this season. If the Chiefs were going to match up with Seattle in the first round, they would have to show themselves they could beat the T-Birds. Spokane got out to a quick start when Dominic Zwerger scored on a perfect pass from Riley Whittingham 8:18 into the game to give the Chiefs their first lead against Seattle this season at 1-0. The Thunderbirds stormed back though as they scored 2 goals just 23 seconds apart midway through the period to make it 2-1 Seattle. Back would come Spokane as Adam Helewka scored from between the circles at 12:16 to send the two teams to the first intermission tied at 2.
Mike Aviani would put the Chiefs back on top with a tip of a Mitch Holmberg shot at 1:37 of the second to make it 3-2 Spokane. Once again Seattle would strike for back to back goals as they would re-gain the lead at 4-3 midway through the second. The Chiefs would pull back even on a Hudson Elyniuk power play goal at 15:51 to send the game to the third tied at 4. In the third, Spokane would break the deadlock when Aviani scored his second of the contest at 14:34 off a net front scramble to put Spokane up 5-4. The Chiefs would cap their first win over Seattle when Connor Chartier scored on an empty netter in the final minute and a half as Spokane skated to a 6-4 win and moved within just 2 points of Seattle for 4th. Just as importantly, Spokane moved 3 points ahead of Everett for 5th as they welcomed the Silvertips to Spokane the following night.
The Chiefs had won 7 of 9 from Everett this season, including all 4 in the Spokane Arena. Spokane had won 18 straight over 4 seasons from the Silvertips in Spokane, so the Chiefs were hoping that history would continue on their side as a win over Everett would practically wrap up the 5th spot and tie Seattle for 4th. The Chiefs jumped out in a hurry as Aviani continued his hot streak with a power play goal just 5:26 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Everett came right back and scored on a Carson Stadnyk power play goal midway through to tie the game at one. The Chiefs would counter with another power play goal, this time off a 5 on 3 advantage, when Mitch Holmberg scored his 61st of the year with only 14 seconds remaining in the period as Spokane took a 2-1 lead after one.
In the second, the Silvertips would get a pair of Josh Winquist goals, including one on the power play with just 5 seconds left in the period to take a 3-2 lead. The final goal was a real demoralizer, as the Chiefs struggled to get quality chances in the third. Spokane would outshoot Everett 7-3 in the third, but a turnover led to Stadnyk's second goal of the night late in the third to seal a 4-2 Silvertip win. The loss was really damaging for Spokane as now Everett was just one point back of Spokane and had a game in hand, with 3 games in their season, while the Chiefs only had 2. Spokane also gave up a chance to tie Seattle for 4th and the Thunderbirds also had a game in hand. The Chiefs now haddd to win both of their remaining games with the Tri City Americans to have any chance to take the 5th spot in the West and had to hope for some help from Victoria or Portland to hold off Everett.
Tri City would come to the Spokane Arena Friday for the first half of the home and home and the final home game of the regular season for Spokane. In front of a sell out crowd, the Chiefs promptly allowed the Americans to jump out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of Jessey Astles goals. Spokane's Keanu Yamamoto scored just 24 seconds after Astles second goal to cut the lead to 2-1 Tri after the first. Connor Chartier would get the Chiefs even at 2 just over 7 minutes into the second, and then Mitch Holmberg scored his 62nd of the season, a power play tally at 8:40 to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead. The goal was also his 147th of his career, passing Pat Falloon for the top spot all time in Chiefs history. It's a record that had held for 23 years, and capped a 118 point season for Holmberg, claiming the Bob Clarke trophy for the top scorer in the WHL this season. He's the first Chief to do so since Ray Whitney in 1990-91, so it's history that hasn't been seen by Spokane fans for quite some time.
But back to the game. Tri City wouldn't allow the Chiefs to celebrate early, as Parker Bowles would score on a Tri City power play and with an extra skater on for goalie Evan Sarthou, as the Ams scored on a 6 on 4 advantage with just 31 seconds left to tie the game at 3 and send the game to overtime. Neither team scored in OT as both teams didn't generate a lot of offensive chances. That left the two teams going to a shootout for the 3rd time in 11 games, and Holmberg would get the Chiefs out to a 1-0 lead in round 1. Bowles would answer for the Americans in round 1 and the shootout was 1-1. It would be the only goal for the Ams in the shootout as goalie Eric Williams turned aside the next 3 shooters. Spokane would get the win when Liam Stewart, in his first game since breaking his foot January 29th, scored in round 4 to give Spokane a 4-3 shootout win.
The victory kept the Chiefs alive, as Seattle lost to Portland. Everett was still on the Chiefs heels with a win at Victoria, but a Chiefs win and losses by either Seattle or Everett would put Spokane in the 4 vs. 5 matchup against either the Thunderbirds or Silvertips. All that was left was a win over Tri in Kennewick the next night. Like the previous game though, it was the Americans that took the early lead as Astles got his 3rd in two nights late in the first to give Tri City a 1-0 lead after one. A pair of slashing penalties on Spokane in the second would lead to back to back power play goals in the period for Tri as the Ams took a commanding 3-0 lead after two periods.
With their chance to move up the standings on the line, the Chiefs laid an egg in the third, managing just 4 shots on net as the Americans shut out the Chiefs for the second time in 2 weeks with a 3-0 win. The loss proved to be devastating as Everett won to move past both Spokane and Seattle into 4th place. The Chiefs were now tied with Seattle after their loss to Portland, but Seattle clinched the tie breaker as a result of their season series win over Spokane. So instead of getting at leasttt 5th, Spokane was now in the 6th spot as they now have to face the #3 seed, and the #7 team in all of the CHL, the Victoria Royals.
Spokane had good success with the Royals this year, winning 3 of 4 from Victoria, but all 3 wins came in the first month of the season. In the only game after mid-October, Victoria won convincingly in Spokane in early January. The Royals are a tough matchup for Spokane as they have more size than the Chiefs, and have a better skill set up front. They are big defensively, which will prove to be a challenge for Spokane's forwards. There is nooo question the Chiefs have to outwork and outskate Victoria to have a chance in this series. Spokane has proven they can do both earlier in the season, but over a 7 game series, it's going to be a difficult challenge. Getting Stewart back in the lineup is a plus, but missing a Blair Oneschuck is going to hurt as his grit would be a plus in this series.
Games one and two are in Victoria Saturday and Sunday. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game Saturday at 6:30pm and puck drop at 7:05pm. Sunday's pre-game is at 4:30pm with the puck drop at 5:05pm. The series comes back to Spokane Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:05pm, so the Chiefs are hoping to get at least one win on the road before heading home. It will be a fun series for the fans, so we hope to see you at the rink!