This was one of those road trips I looked at when the schedule came out last summer and said to myself, "Boy, this is going to a be a tough one." Anytime you play 3 games in 3 nights is difficult, but when you have to go on the road for all 3 anddd have to play all of the games against teams in your division, it just compounds how tough the trip is going to be. That's not even mentioning how tough the buildings in Everett, Tri Cities and Portland are to play in. The crowds are vocal and the home team always seem to play at a much higher level than they usually do on the road.
So this is what the Chiefs had to look forward to this past weekend, as they began the 3 day gauntlet in Everett against the Silvertips. Everett has traditionally been a very difficult place for the Chiefs to win, but this season Spokane had managed to shut out the Tips in both previous games in Everett by 1-0, and 2-0 scores. The Chiefs had in fact, won the first 5 matchups with Everett this year, something that had not happened in the previous 11 year history between the two teams. The last game in Spokane had gone to overtime, with Spokane winning on a Mike Aviani overtime goal back on January 4th at the Spokane Arena. With that background, the two teams squared off Friday night in Everett.
Chiefs goalie Eric Williams came ready to play as he turned aside an open Jujhar Khaira on his backhand early in the first to keep the game scoreless. Spokane would break through late in the first when Dominic Zwerger scored his 9th of the year from Hudson Elyniuk and Riley Whittingham at 15:42 to make it 1-0 Chiefs after one. Everett would get 3 power play chances in the second, but Williams and the defense turned away all 3 opportunities. Spokane would score at the end of the first Everett power play when Adam Helewka scored on a breakaway at 10:33 to make it 2-0 Chiefs. Everett would score just 33 seconds later to cut the lead to 2-1 and just missed tying the game on a shot that floated wide of the net past Williams in the final minute of the second period.
Spokane had a chance to put the game away in the third when the Silvertips took a 5 minute major for kneeing midway through the period to give the Chiefs a 5 minute power play. Spokane's top rated power play failed to score in the 5 minutes though, and when the Chiefs took a penalty with a minute and a half to go, Everett had a golden chance to tie. The Silvertips pulled their goalie in the final minute for a 6 on 4 advantage, but the Chiefs were able to kill off Everett's 5th power play of the night and Spokane held on for a 2-1 win. The victory was Spokane's 6th in a row over Everett, 3 of them by just one goal.
The win also put the Chiefs ahead of the Tips by 3 points in the U.S. Division and kept Spokane just 1 point back of second place Seattle, who shut out Tri City at home 4-0. Now the Chiefs and Tri headed to Kennewick for their 6th meeting of the year Saturday. Spokane had won 4 of the previous 5, losing in a shootout in Tri at the end of November. In the last meeting, the Chiefs had managed a rare win on New Year's Eve at Tri City, getting a 4-2 victory behind two goals from Mitch Holmberg.
It was Tri City that got out to the early lead as they scored 7 seconds into their first power play when Phillip Tot scored on a rebound at 10:18 of the first to make it 1-0 Americans. The Chiefs would counter when Dominic Zwerger's no look pass found Keanu Yamamoto by the right post and Yamamoto's 3rd goal of the season at 15:55 evened the game at 1-1 after the first. The game was evenly played through the second until the Ams Brian Williams scored on a backhanded rebound at 16:47 to give Tri City a 2-1 lead after two.
Spokane got the only power play of the third, and outshot the Americans 9-4 in the period, but managed to come up with nothing in the net past Americans goalie Eric Comrie. Meantime, Tot notched his second goal of the game at 8:54 of the third cap a 3-1 Tri City win. The Chiefs outshot Tri 32-23 in the game, but went 0-3 on the power play and 3-4 on the penalty kill as Spokane lost their 2nd game in 6 encounters with the Americans this season. It was a costly loss in the standings as well, as Seattle and Everett both won their games. Spokane is now 3 points back of Seattle for second, and 1 point up on Everett for third as the Chiefs headed West to take on the division leading Portland Winterhawks.
Portland had a 5 point lead on Spokane entering the game, in large part because the Hawks had won 5 straight from the Chiefs this season. Spokane's last win in Portland had come a year ago, when the Chiefs beat Portland 5-2 in the Veterans' Memorial Coliseum over the Martin Luther King Holiday. Now Spokane came back the day before the MLK Holiday hoping to repeat a little history. Getting off to a good start has been a challenge against the Hawks, especially in Portland. Sunday's game would be more of the same. as Portland jumped all over the Chiefs offensively in the first period. Fortunately for Spokane, goalie Garret Hughson was on his 'A' game, as he continually made big saves to keep the game scoreless.
The Winterhawks would finally break through in the final minute of the period, as Brendan Leipsic scored on a rebound to give Portland a 1-0 lead after one. The Hawks put up 18 shots in the first, and without the play of Hughson, the game could have easilyyy been 4 or 5 to nothing. The second period didn't get much better for Spokane as Portland scored on a Chase DeLeo partial breakaway just over 7 minutes in to make it 2-0. That goal opened the floodgates as Portland would get an odd man rush tally from Keegan Iverson to make it 3-0 and then Leipsic scored his second of the game on a 4 on 4 to give Portland a 4-0 lead after two.
Spokane's offense was generating little, as Portland outshot the Chiefs 31-17 through two periods. Spokane actually outshot the Hawks in the third, but the Hawks scored the only goal of the period on their first shot as a power play goal capped the scoring as Portland secured a 5-0 win. It was Portland's 6th straight over the Chiefs this season, and continued the 2 year dominance in the series between the two, as the Winterhawks have now won 17 of the last 19 games. Spokane has also fallen 7 points back of Portland for first, and 3 back of second place Seattle coming into this week's games.
The Chiefs get a bit of a break this week, as they just have two games, both of them at home. Friday the Moose Jaw Warriors visit the Spokane Arena for the only time over a two year period, while on Saturday the Chiefs host the Tri City Americans. The weekend series precludes a 4 game road trip that Spokane will go on the last week of January. After the offense put up just 3 goals in 4 games last week, and went 0-14 on the power play, Spokane will need to get their offense going or risk falling out of the U.S. Division race. I'll have the call of this weekend's games on 1510 KGA beginning with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm and the puck drops at 7:05pm. We hope to see you at the rink!