The most exciting part of the season is upon us as the playoffs have begun for the Chiefs. Everything changes once the postseason begins, as the tone becomes far more serious on and off the ice.
After finishing the year with impressive back to back wins over Tri-City and Everett, the Chiefs drew the Portland Winterhawks in the first round. It's the first time since the 2002-2003 season that the two teams have met. It was also my first year as "The Voice of the Chiefs" and I remember Spokane battling back from a 3-1 deficit to win in seven games. Hopefully things won't have to be thattt dramatic this time around.
The Chiefs drew home ice advantage in the series, but had to open the playoffs on the road in Portland due to the NCAA Tournament being held at the Spokane Arena. Game one at the Rose Garden didn't open very well for the boys either, as the Hawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 2:47 into the game as Stephan Schneider snapped a wrist shot from the slot. It was a goal that Chiefs goalie James Reid normally stops and showed that the team was a bit nervous and antsy starting this playoff season.
Portland would extend the lead just under seven minutes later, as Taylor Aronson put home a rebound on the power play to make it 2-0. The Chiefs had been on a power play, but an awwwwfulll call on Brendan Kichton led to the Portland power play. Kichton had got back on a potential Hawk breakaway, reaching out with his stick and hitting the puck before knocking the Portland player down. The referee right on the play ruled correctly that he had hit the puck first, but the official down the ice, awayyyy from the play, called a penalty. Now why in the world the other official didn't overrule Matt Kirk's call is beyonddd me. The lack of communication cost Spokane a goal and now the Chiefs found themselves down 2-0.
The second period started a lottt better for Spokane, as the Chiefs converted their first power play attempt of the period. As it turned out, it was the only power play Spokane got in the period. Jared Spurgeon found Kyle Beach open in the left circle and Beach's one timer brought Spokane within 2-1 four minutes into the second.
The Chiefs would draw even just 2:03 later as Matt Marantz put the puck to Steve Kuhn in the left circle, and Kuhn snapped it home to tie the game at two. Portland though, would score two goals in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the second to take a 4-2 lead to the third. The last goal came at 19:24 on an odd man rush, and I just had the feeling that the Chiefs were not going to win this one.
Spokane had different ideas in the third. On the only power play of the period, the Chiefs converted as Stephan Ulmer knocked down the puck at the Portland blue line, then slapped home a shot 4:37 into the third to bring Spokane within 4-3. It was a huge goal momentum wise and it seemed to shift the game in the Chiefs favor. Tyler Johnson would bang home a rebound of his own shot less than two minutes later at 6:25 to tie the game at four. It was at this point I felt the game was the Chiefs' to win.
Fortunately for Spokane, Reid came up big midway through the period. Reid stoned Brad Ross on a breakaway to keep the game tied at 4. It turned out to be a game winning play. With just under two minutes to go, Kyle Beach, who was coming off a leg injury just the week before at Tri-City, went through four Portland defenders and snapped a shot home with just 1:28 left to win it for the Chiefs.
It was a tremendous comeback for Spokane as the Chiefs scored just their second come from behind win in the third period all season. It had to be an especially deflating loss to Portland as they had won the season series from Spokane and had a two goal lead at home in the third. Despite getting just 25 shots on net, the Chiefs had a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game two the next night had a similar start for the Chiefs, as Portland once again jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead. This time it was Troy Rutkowski who put home a shot from the slot just 4:04 into the game. Reid turned away 17 other Portland shots in the period though to keep the lead at 1-0 after one.
Just like game one though, the Chiefs would bounce back in the second period. A crazy net front scramble would get the Chiefs back to 1-1 just 2:34 into the second. Kenton Miller would put home the goal that his linemates Steve Kuhn and Matt Marantz started as no less than four Hawks were on the ice when Miller snapped home the shot top shelf net front. Spokane would then take the lead for good midway through the period as Mitch Wahl shot one from the left blue line midway through the period to give the boys a 2-1 lead through two.
Spokane would build on the lead in the third. Miller would get his second goal of the night 6:11 into the period with another net front tally from Kuhn and Marantz to give the Chiefs a huge insurance goal at 3-1. The Chiefs then killed off a four minute Portland power play late in the third to keep the Hawks at bay. Blake Gal would then seal the deal with an empty net goal in the last minute to seal the win. Portland would add a goal in the last minute of the third, but Spokane took a 4-2 win to lead the best of seven 2-0.
It was moreee than the team could have asked for. Getting a split on the road would have been great, but to take two in a row over Portland on their home ice, knowing the next three would be on home ice in Spokane was quite an accomplishment. Now it came down to whether the team could continue their good play at home.
The Chiefs had lost all four games this season at home to Portland and were looking to turn that around in game three. Unfortunately, the slow starts that plagued Spokane in Portland followed them home again. Portland put up 23 shots in the first period, but Reid brought his 'A' game and kept the Winterhawks off the board in a scoreless first. Portland came out more aggressive than Spokane, but that was to be expected as the Hawks did not want to fall down 3-0 in the series.
Portland would take a 1-0 lead just 5:22 into the second period as the Hawks Nino Neideriter finally got a puck past Reid. The Chiefs would answer just under seven minutes later as Kyle Beach stole the puck inside the Portland blue line and snapped one past Portland goalie Mac Carruth to tie the game at one after two periods.
Spokane was outshot 42-17 through two periods, as Reid was tremendous through 40 minutes. As good as Reid was, the rest of the team was lethargic compared to Portland. The Chiefs were very fortunate to be tied after two periods. Ironically enough, the Chiefs would put together their best offensive period in the third, outshooting Portland 14-7.
But getting outplayed over a game can catch up to you and it did to the Chiefs, as Troy Rutkowski scored with just four minutes left to give Portland a 2-1 win. Spokane had a power play late in the third and pulled Reid to get a 6-4 advantage, but never managed a serious scoring chance. The Chiefs ended up being outshot 49-31 on the night, the most shots they had given up in a game all season.
So instead of really putting the heat on Portland, the Chiefs gave the Winterhawks life, as the Chiefs lead is now 2-1 in the best of seven. A very big game four now looms on Friday night at 7pm, with game five in Spokane on Saturday. Spokane still has a chance to wrap up the series without returning to Portland for game six on Monday, but a muchhhh better effort is needed by the team Friday night.
I'll have the call for both games four and five on 1510 KGA beginning with the pregame show at 6:30pm. The puck drops at 7pm and let's hope the Chiefs return to the game two level they showed in Portland. We'll see you at the rink!