After the busiest week of the season to date, the Chiefs got no time to rest on their laurels after winning four of five in seven days in five different cities. Spokane was right back at it last weekend with three games in three nights against two division leaders and one team just a point out of their division lead. Fortunately for the boys, two of the three games were home at the Spokane Arena, where the Chiefs had the third best home record in the league.
The weekend started with a rematch with the Kootenay Ice just six days after Spokane pasted the Ice in the league's first outdoor game the previous Saturday 11-2.
One thing you always fear when your team comes off a huge win against someone is getting overconfident in the next meeting. With the previous win over Kootenay still fresh in both team's minds, let's just say I was a bit worried about Friday's game against a very good Ice team that was ranked #7 in the latest CHL poll.
It was obvious from the start of the game that this contest wasn't going to be the rout of the previous Saturday. On the opening faceoff, the puck was laying netfront before the Kootenay goal but the Chiefs Dominick Uher was tied up by the Ice defense and couldn't lay a stick on the puck. Kootenay goaltender Nathan Leuwen was stellar in the first, turning away three greattt chances for Spokane to keep the game scoreless. Spokane would finally find a way to breakthrough in the last minute of the period when Tyler Johnson's drop pass on the right wing got to Uher, and he went right to left into the slot to bury one past Leuwen to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after one.
Kootenay came back to score a power play goal early in the second to tie up the score, but Spokane came right back 4.5 minutes later with a power play tally of their own to take a 2-1 lead after two. Once again, it was Johnson in the middle of it, hitting Levko Koper with a great pass netfront and Spokane regained the lead heading into the third.
The Chiefs coughed up the lead in the first minute of the third when a whiffed shot and a neutral zone turnover led to a goal by the Ice just 46 seconds into the period. Once again, Spokane came back, as Uher put home his second goal of the night, this time on the power play just over six minutes later to give the Chiefs a lead they would never lose. Johnson would cap a three point night with his league leading 35th goal of the season after a great pass by Uher to give Spokane a huge insurance goal and a 4-2 lead. Steve Kuhn would cap the scoring on an empty netter from center ice with a minute left, and the Chiefs had their second straight win over the Ice at 5-2.
The Chiefs power play was the difference, getting Spokane three of their five goals and enabling the team to pick up a win when a)the team didn't play its' best game by putting up just 25 shots, and b)help them overcome a greattt effort by Leuwen in net. He made several biggg saves for Kootenay to keep them in the game and give his team a chance to win. The Chiefs had to feel good though, as they picked up a win against a very good team without having played their best game.
Spokane welcomed one of the few teams to have beaten them at home this year when the Kelowna Rockets came calling last Saturday. The Chiefs had dropped an overtime decision to Kelowna back in November and looked to be on their way to avenging the loss when Johnson scored just 1:20 into the game from the right circle to make it 1-0 Spokane. Kelowna came right back with a power play goal less than four minutes later to even the game at one. On the Rockets next power play chance, Johnson led an odd man rush as he found an open Levko Koper and he buried his 4th shorthanded goal of the year to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one.
Mitch Holmberg started the second period off in style for Spokane with a goal from the low left circle just 18 seconds into the stanza to make it 3-1 Chiefs. It looked like another home win was in the offing for the Chiefs, but the Rockets had other ideas. Kelowna took advantage of two Spokane mistakes in their defensive zone and put them both in the back of the net to tie the game at three after the second. There was no question the game turned at this point, as the Chiefs were frustrated by Kelowna goalie Adam Brown on several good scoring chances in the first two periods as well.
Instead of enjoying a comfortable lead, Spokane was in a dogfight in the third. The game was back and forth, but as it often does, the game turned on one big play and it was the Rockets that made it. Kelowna's Brett Bulmer outskated one Chief, outmuscled another,and went right around goalie Mac Engel to give the Rockets their first lead of the game with just 3:32 left. Kelowna would then add an empty netter to seal a 5-3 win and hand the Chiefs their first loss at home in regulation since October 23rd, when Spokane dropped a 4-2 contest to Red Deer.
The loss was damaging in the standings as well, as the Chiefs fell two points back of Portland for first. Spokane had a great chance to make up the two points though the very next night when they headed to the Rose City to face the Winterhawks. The Chiefs have played well in Portland over the last 5 seasons, and had not lost in Portland since December of 2009.
The game started great for Spokane as Brendan Kichton snapped a shot home from the right circle to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. His defensive partner Jared Cowen would add another tally just over four minutes later and suddenly Spokane was out to a 2-0 advantage. Just as quick as the Chiefs took the lead, Portland came right back and evened things up, as the Hawks scored two goals just 1:04 apart late in the period to send the game to the intermission all even at two.
It was a huge turnaround to the game, as Portland would then score two more goals just 10 seconds apart early in the second to take a 4-2 lead. Tougher still was the fact the Chiefs lost starting goaltender James Reid for the game to a left leg injury on the Hawks fourth goal. With the Memorial Coliseum crowd rocking, a two goal deficit, and your backup goalie in net, it would have been easy for the Chiefs to fold the tents and head home. Instead, Spokane fought back as Koper put home a rebound in the final 2.5 minutes of the second to cut the Portland lead to 4-3 after two.
It was a hugeee lift for the Chiefs, who came out in the third firing. Kichton would then notch his second of the night from the right wing just 3:37 into the third to tie the game at 4. Portland would retake the lead midway through the period on a wraparound by Ryan Johansen, who scored his second of the night, to take a 5-4 lead. Koper would come right back, scoring his second of the game, and 7th in his last four games, on the power play at 14:26, to tie the game at 5 and send it to overtime. In overtime though, Nino Neiderreiter scored with just 36 seconds left to hand the Chiefs a bitter loss.
Spokane outshot Portland 47-37 in the game, and went a perfect 6-6 on the penalty kill, but still fell another point of the Winterhawks in the standings. It also snapped the Chiefs four-game win streak against Portland as the boys headed home for a three game homestand.
The Chiefs will host Everett Wednesday in the opener, and will do so without Reid in net. Engel will step in for the week looking for his first win of the year, and the Chiefs are hoping it comes Wednesday. It's been said you're only as good as your goaltender, and now is the opportunity for Engel to step up and provide Spokane some comfort in knowing the team has depth in net.
Spokane begins the week 3 points behind Portland for first, and three points ahead of Tri-City for second in the U.S. Division. Wednesday's game will start at 7pm and I'll have the pregame show at 6:30pm on 1510 AM KGA. Friday, the Chilliwack Bruins come to town for the first time, with the times the same on 1510. Saturday, a huge showdown with the Tri-City Americans awaits the Chiefs at 7pm. I'll the pregame that night at 6:30pm on 790 KJRB due to the Gonzaga Bulldogs being on 1510.
It's a week of questions to be answered about the Chiefs and how they'll fare after two losses and without their regular goalie. We'll see how the boys do, and we look forward to seeing you at the rink!