Dropping the opening game of their 3 game homestand to Kelowna did not give a good omen to the Chiefs as they knew the homestand was going to get tougher with league leading Tri City and the defending WHL champion Kootenay Ice coming to town over the weekend on Friday and Saturday. Fortunately for Spokane, Vancouver had also been losing when the Chiefs did, so the two teams were still tied for 4th place in the Western Conference playoff race, and with it, the last home ice spot in the post season. Spokane knows they will face the Giants in the first round, so getting home ice will be huge for both clubs when the playoffs start up in a week and a half.
The Chiefs loss to Kelowna had it's good moments for Spokane, as the team showed signs of getting back to playing their style of game, particularly in 5 on 5 situations. Unfortunately, the special teams on the power play and penalty kill had come up short and were key ingredients in the 3-2 shootout loss. Spokane knewww they had to shore up those areas of their game as they faced off with an Americans team that had beaten the Chiefs in their last 3 meetings, including two in a row at the Spokane Arena. Friday's game would prove howww true that was in the very first period.
The Americans struck on their very first power play of the night on an Adam Hughesman rebound just over 4 1/2 minutes into the game to give Tri City a 1-0 lead. Spokane would fail on two power play chances that could have tied the game and the Ams took advantage on their 3rd man advantage of the period. Hughesman would strike again as he rifled one past Chiefs goalie Mac Engel as the horn sounded for the end of the period. The power play tally gave Tri a 2-0 lead headed to the second. Just as I thought that goal would send the Chiefs in the tank, Spokane responded quickly in the second period. Dominick Uher snapped home a rebound of a Marek Kalus shot just 1:41 into the period to cut the lead to 2-1. The Chiefs would get a chance to even the game on the period's only power play, but once again, Spokane's special teams broke down. Tri City broke out of their own zone while shorthanded and went on a 2 on 1 rush the other way. Justin Feser finished off a pass from the league's leading scorer, Brendan Shinnimin, at 11:57 of the second to hand Tri a 3-1 lead after two. It was a hugeeee goal in the contest, as it stymied Spokane's momentum and took the home crowd rightt out of the game.
Tri would hold the Chiefs at bay through most of the third period, despite the fact Spokane would outshoot the Americans 15-3 in the period. The Chiefs finally broke through after pulling goalie Mac Engel with less than a minute and a half left in the game, when Davis Vandane scored his third of the season with 1:06 remaining. Spokane would get the puck back in the Tri City end after the face-off, but a turnover by the Chiefs would enable Shinnimin to shoot in an empty net goal from mid-ice with 33 seconds left to seal a 4-2 Tri City win. It was the Americans fourth straight win against Spokane and their third in a row at the Arena. Tri has won 8 of the 11 regular season meetings against the Chiefs. It's the first time I can everrr remember Tri City dominating a season series against Spokane this much since I've covered the team over the last decade plus. The loss was also the Chiefs 5th in a row at home, by far their longest losing streak at the Arena this season.
Now the Chiefs were staring at possibly losing their 4th in a row overall, as the Kootenay Ice came to town on Saturday. Spokane had lost two straight to the defending league champs, but both games had been on Kootenay's home ice in Cranbrook. The last time the two teams met in Spokane on January 28th, it was without a doubt the most exciting game the Chiefs have played in this season. Spokane had to rally from a 3-0 second period deficit, as well as trailing 4-2 with less than 8 minutes to go in the game, to come from behind for a 5-4 overtime win on Brenden Kichton's goal 3:10 into OT. Saturday's contest gave no hint that this game would be as good...at least early on.
Kootenay would score just 13 seconds into their first power play of the night on a Joey Leach shot from the point at 12:10 of the first to give the Ice a 1-0 lead. I won't lie...my thought process at that point was 'Here we go again' regarding the penalty kill. Spokane would buckle down though and shut down the Ice on their remaining 3 power play chances in the contest, and that would prove to be huge. In fact, the Chiefs would capitalize on their second power play of the second period, as Marek Kalus would tip a Dominick Uher shot past Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen with just 12 seconds left in the period to tie the game at one after two periods. It was a huge goal on two accounts, as not only did the Chiefs get the momentum heading into the third, but the power play was able to notch a goal against the league's top penalty kill unit, which had to be a huge boost in confidence for a power play that had been struggling biggg time since mid-February.
The momentum would come to a screeching halt for the Chiefs just 2:23 into the third period when Elgin Pearce put a shot through the pads of Chiefs goalie Eric Williams to give the Ice a 2-1 lead. The way Lieuwen was playing against the Chiefs, turning away shot after shot, overcoming a one goal lead looked pretty difficult. One Chief that was particularly snakebit was Darren Kramer, as the captain of the team had been turned away on 4 excellent chances, including 2 point blank shots, earlier in the game. Kramer would finally breakthrough though late in the third, as he snapped a shot top shelf at 13:38 to tie the game at two. Kramer had been the one who had tied the game against Kootenay in the last 3 minutes of play in the two teams contest back in January, so it seemed fitting he would do it again. As the crowd celebrated Kramer's goal, Spokane came right off the face-off and would tally the eventual game winner just 29 seconds later. Brenden Kichton's pass went off the skate of Collin Valcourt at 14:07 to send the crowd into a frenzy and give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead.
Spokane then hung on from there, as Kootenay produced a scramble about a minute later, that had what seemed like every Chief player down on the ice trying to get the puck out of their crease. Kootenay's Erik Benoit had a wideee open net and shot the puck over the cross bar to aid the Chiefs cause greatly.
Spokane hung on from there to preserve a 3-2 win and end the Chiefs longest home losing streak of the year, and more importantly, give the team a bit of a boost as they headed into the final week of the regular season.
The Chiefs have just 4 games left, but will cram those into 5 days beginning Tuesday night in Seattle. Spokane begins the final week 2 points back of Vancouver for 4th in the Conference, but the Giants have just 2 games remaining, so the Chiefs have a golden opportunity to seize the final home ice spot in the playoffs when they host Vancover in the first round beginning on March 23rd. Spokane will be at Seattle Tuesday at 7:05pm, then return home to host the B.C. Division champion Kamloops Blazers on Wednesday at 7:05pm. The Chiefs close out their home regular season schedule Friday at 7:05pm when they entertain Seattle, then close out the regular season in Tri Cities against the Americans on Saturday at 7pm. Friday's game will be televised on Root Sports, while Saturday's will be on SWX locally.
The team will be without defenseman Davis Vandane for the first two games at Seattle and against Kamloops, as he took his 5th kneeing penalty of the year against Kootenay, and drew the automatic league suspension for accrued penalties. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for all 4 games beginning at 6:30pm with the pre-game shows. It looks to be a fun week and we hope to see you at the rink supporting the boys in the final regular season games of the 2012 season!