After splitting the two game road trip in British Columbia with Chilliwack and Kamloops, the Chiefs returned home to open their longest home stand of the year, six games, with a pair of back to back contests with the Portland Winterhawks.
It's highly unusual for the Chiefs to play back to back nights against the same team at home in the regular season, and these were the first meetings since the two teams faced each other in a seven game playoff series last March. Portland came in tied for first in the U.S. Division with Tri-City, so the two games would serve as a perfect barometer where the young Chiefs stood.
Game one on Friday night saw the Hawks jump out to a quick 1-0 lead as Sven Bartschi scored on the power play. The Chiefs would come right back though. Jared Cowen would get a Tanner Mort pass and skate in down the left wing and snap a wrister past Hawks goalie Mac Carruth to tie the game at one at the 4:45 mark of the period. Blake Gal would then take a puck in the neutral zone and skate past the Portland defense to score on a breakaway shorthanded less than three minutes later to give Spokane a 2-1 lead. Portland responded just over three minutes later when Bartschi scored his second of the game past Chiefs goalie Mac Engel, who was making his WHL debut.
The Chiefs outshot the Hawks 14-9 in the period, and really should have had the lead...but a tie beats trailing in the scorebook any day. The Chiefs totally outchanced the Hawks in the second period but neither team scored. The second period was a period of lost chances for Spokane, as the team failed to score on 5 power play opportunities.
The third period was even moreee frustrating for the team, as the Chiefs dominatedddd the final 20 minutes, outshooting Portland 22-5 and carrying the play in the Hawks zone for 90% of the period. Carruth was a one man show in net for Portland though, stopping all 34 shots he faced in the final two periods. Spokane failed to score on two more power play chances, going 0-9 on the night.
The game would be decided with just 29.5 seconds to go, when Portland defenseman Taylor Aronson got a loose puck inside the Chiefs blue line and fired a shot that went off a Spokane defenseman to give Portland a 3-2 win. The result was not a fair one as far as Spokane was concerned, as the Chiefs outshot the Hawks 48-19 on the game, but the failure of the power play ended up costing the Chiefs a deserved victory. Carruth was the star for Portland, turning aside 46 shots as the Hawks won their 9th straight in the Arena over Spokane.
The Chiefs looked to stop the streak the next night as they took on Portland again. The Chiefs picked up where they left off, firing 17 shots on Portland goalie Ian Curtis, who was making his season debut after a shoulder injury. Unfortunately for Spokane, Curtis was as sharp as Carruth was the night before, and the Chiefs came out the period in a scoreless tie. The power play once again came up empty, going 0-3 in the period.
Spokane finally broke through in the second period, as Gal got his second goal in as many games by poking home a rebound midway through the stanza to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Portland would come back after a couple of Chiefs turnovers in the neutral zone, as Bartschi put home two more goals at 14:10 and 18:03 to give Portland a 2-1 lead after two.
The third period was more frustration for Spokane as the power play failed in two attempts and Curtis turned aside all 8 Chiefs shots to give Portland their second straight one goal win.
Spokane ended up going 0-17 on the power play in the weekend. Despite outshooting Portland 83-43 in the two games, the Chiefs fell short in both contests. It had to be discouraging for the team, but at the same time, Spokane more than held its own against one of the top teams in the WHL, and can use these games to build on.
The Chiefs will get a full week of practice this week as they play just one game, hosting Everett on Saturday night at the Spokane Arena. I'll be on the air with pregame at 6:30, with the puck dropping at 7pm on 1510 KGA. We'll see you at the rink!