Spokane was starting to get healthy again, as forward Liam Stewart had come off the injured list the last weekend of the regular season, and the club welcomed back forwards Jacob Cardiff and Adam Hasic and defenseman Colton Bobyk for the playoffs. That left only forward Blair Oneschuck on the shelf, the healthiest the team has been in over two months. Spokane also called up defenseman Tyson Helgeson to add to the depth of the blue line, joining rookie Evan Fiala. Helgeson in fact would get the chance to show his skills right off the hop, as he was in the lineup for game one on Saturday night.
The Chiefs didn't exactly start on fire in the first period, getting outshot 14-8 in the first and going 0-2 on the power play. Fortunately, goalie Eric Williams was ready to go as he turned away 13 of the Royals shots, over half of which were quality chances. Victoria would break through to take a 1-0 lead on a Ben Walker rebound at 15:26 of the first. Spokane would get 3 power play chances in the second, but fail to score as they outshot the Royals 11-7 in the period, but still trailed 1-0 heading into the third. Spokane would finally break through when Riley Whittingham put home a Cole Wedman shot at 2:22 of the third to tie the game at one.
Spokane would kill off the only power play in the period from Victoria and the Chiefs and Royals would head to overtime. Neither team would get great chances early in the OT, but Spokane would come close to ending it about 5 minutes in. A shot from Connor Chartier was saved by Royals goalie Patrik Polivka and the rebound laid in the crease in front of forward Mike Aviani. The puck never found Aviani's stick though and the game continued as the Chiefs came within inches of ending the contest. Victoria would take advantage of the new life as Stephen Hodges hit Travis Brown on a back door feed and Brown's shot got through the pads of Williams at 8:10 of overtime to give the Royals their first win over the Chiefs on Victoria's home ice, 2-1.
The Chiefs had won all 6 games in Victoria over 3 years up until game one. In fact, the Chiefs had not lost on the road to the Royals/Chilliwack Bruins franchise since October, 2010; a streak of 9 straight games over a 4 season stretch. Spokane ended up being outshot 33-27 in the game, going 0-5 on the power play but a perfect 3-3 on the penalty kill. The result though was Spokane was now down 1-0 in the series and had to try to get back in the best of 7 with a win in game 2 the following night. The Chiefs would have to do so without forward Keanu Yamamoto, who had to leave in the first period in game one after taking a hit to his arm that left him heading to the locker room.
Yamamoto would be out of the lineup for game two, but it looked like the Chiefs wouldn't miss him early. A Royals turnover in their own zone led to Dominic Zwerger snapping home his first career playoff goal just 47 seconds into the game to give the Chiefs an early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately the lead didn't last long, as Logan Fisher scored from the goal line at 1:27 to tie the game at one. Brandon Magee's goal from the right wing beat Williams top shelf at 9:31 to give the Royals a 2-1 lead. Spokane had a chance to tie with a 5 on 3 power play for 1:47 right after Magee's goal, but the Chiefs came up empty...going 0-3 on the man advantage in the first period as Spokane trailed 2-1 after one.
Things didn't get better early in the second as Tyler Soy scored on a rebound just 3:47 into the period to give Victoria a 3-1 lead. The Chiefs bounced right back though as Liam Stewart scored his first of the playoffs on a backhander at 4:33 to get Spokane within 3-2 after two. The Chiefs then killed off a 5 on 3 Victoria power play early in the third to stay within one. Spokane's power play, which had gone 0-9 to start the series, would get the Chiefs even at 3 when Reid Gow's shot from the point went in at the 9:07 mark. The two teams would then head to overtime for the second straight game. The second overtime didn't last as long as game one, as Logan Nelson scored on a rebound just 2:18 into OT to give the Royals their second overtime win in as many nights and a 2-0 series lead.
It was a weekend where Spokane could have easily had a 2-0 lead rather than a 2-0 deficit. In the end though, the Chiefs didn't get enough done offensively, particularly on the power play, to warrant a series lead. Eric Williams has been very good in net, turning aside 72 of 78 shots as Spokane has been outshot in every period but one by a total of 78-58. The young defensive corp has been very good as well, led by Gow and Jason Fram, who have been the best players with Williams for Spokane. The Chiefs need their top 3 goal scorers, Mitch Holmberg, Mike Aviani and Adam Helewka to get going, as those three only have one point in two games...an Aviani assist on Gow's power play goal in game two. Without increased production from the big 3, Spokane is going to see a short series against the Royals.
The good news is the Chiefs return home for the next two contests as games 3 and 4 are at the Spokane Arena Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:05pm. If Spokane wins one of those, game 5 will be in Victoria Saturday night. If the Chiefs can win both, Spokane will assure themselves of a game 6 the following Monday. Spokane must win game 3 to have a chance though, as only two teams have everrr come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a best of 7 in WHL history. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA Wednesday and Thursday with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm. Let's hope the Chiefs get some good support and a pair of wins too! We hope to see you at the rink!