I don't think anyone could have seen the Chiefs taking four straight games after losing the first two contests in Vancouver by a 14-8 margin. I certainly didn't and I reallyyy didn't see the Chiefs holding the Giants to just 6 goals over those final 4 encounters either. But that issss what happened, much to the delight of Chiefs fans I'm sure, as Spokane moved into the Western Conference semi-final round for the 2nd straight year. And for the second consecutive season, Spokane would face their arch rivals, the Tri City Americans. Unlike last season when Spokane was the favored higher seed with home ice advantage, this time around the Americans came in as the top seed in the conference, and would host the first two games of the series.
One thing Spokane had in their favor is that they had won two of their final 3 visits to Kennewick in the regular season, including the two teams last meeting in the regular season finale on St. Patrick's Day, when the Chiefs eliminated the Americans chances of winning the best regular season record in the WHL with a 3-2 win. Tri City had won 8 of 12 from Spokane during the regular season, as the Chiefs were 2-4 at home in the Spokane Arena, and 2-4 in Kennewick. Game one was the first game for Tri in 9 days, as they had swept Everett in their first round series, while Spokane had been off for just 4 days after their win over Vancouver.
Game one would see the two teams go back and forth offensively as there was no feeling out process. There are no secrets when you play each other as often as these two do, and it led to some good chances at both ends of the ice. Tri City would get the first goal of the series on the power play at 8:05 of the first when Justin Feser's shot hit Brendan Shinimin's stick and ricocheted off Chiefs defenseman Corey Baldwin's leg to make it 1-0 Americans. It was a goal Spokane goalie Eric Williams didn't stand a chance on, so despite outshooting the Ams 10-7 in the period, the Chiefs were down one going into the second. In the second, Spokane would pull even when Mike Aviani notched his 3rd goal of the playoffs at 16:22 to send the game into the third tied up at one.
The Chiefs would jump right out in the third period and seize the lead when Aviani put the puck on Darren Kramer's tape on the left wing. Kramer snapped his wrist shot past Tri goalie Ty Rimmer just 2:39 into the third to take a 2-1 lead. That advantage would hold up until the 14:34 mark, when the Ams Mason Wilgosh's shot changed direction from the left circle and got past Williams to even the game at 2 apiece. Neither team seriously threatened offensively after that, and for the 12th time in the last 17 playoff games between the two rivals, the game was headed to overtime. Memories of the 2008 Western Finals were going through my mind, as that series saw 5 overtime games, including 3 that went to double overtime. Let's just say I was preparing for a long night.
That thought disappeared very quickly though, as Mitch Holmberg picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated down the right wing on a 3 on 1 rush and snapped a shot past Rimmer just 1:06 into overtime to lift the Chiefs to a 3-2 win and a 1-0 series lead. It was a sudden finale and a bit jarring in a way, as I was totallyyy unprepared for such a quick conclusion. No question it was a huge win for Spokane, as they secured their 5th straight playoff victory, and had seized the home ice advantage from the top seeded Americans.
Now the big question was, could Spokane repeat their efforts the following night in game two. Tri City was a desperate hockey team and kneww they had to win to prevent falling down 0-2 in the series heading back to Spokane. The Americans would come out in the first period and outshoot the Chiefs 11-7, and would take the early lead. After a Chiefs turnover in their own zone, the Ams Adam Hughesman converted a Brendan Shinnimin pass from the right circle at 13:21 of the period to make it 1-0 Tri City after the first period. Spokane didn't get much of a chance to even the game in the second, as they managed just 7 shots on goal. The Chiefs Mike Aviani had a partial breakaway late in the period that Rimmer turned away as the Americans maintained their 1 goal lead heading into the third.
The Ams would score a huge insurance goal just 4:01 into the third period when Justin Feser scored on a great feed from defenseman Mitch Topping out net front to put Tri City up 2-0. The Chiefs meantime weren't mustering up much offense at all, as Tri City controlled the puck possession of the period for most of the third. Spokane would catch a break late in the third though, when the Ams Adam Hughesman was whistled for an interference at 18:16. The Chiefs would then pull goalie Eric Williams for an extra attacker and with a 6 on 4 advantage, Spokane would win the face-off in the Tri zone. Mitch Holmberg picked up the loose puck and snapped a shot past Rimmer at 18:35 to bring the Chiefs within 2-1. Spokane then got the puck back in the Tri end of the ice after the face-off, but the Ams cleared the puck to neutral ice. Spokane then iced the puck to force Williams back on the ice with just over 20 seconds left.
Then things got interesting. The Chiefs won the draw in their own zone and quickly got the puck in the Tri City end. The Americans Sam Grist picked up the loose puck and held it behind his own net with about 6 seconds remaining. Grist then tried to clear the puck up the right wall, but the Chiefs Blake Gal kept the puck in and snapped a pass to defenseman Corey Baldwin. Baldwin shot the puck from the point and the shot amazingly beat Rimmer before the horn. My reaction, and I'm sure the reaction of many others, was disbelief that the Chiefs had tied the game before the horn. And let me stress...the puck did beat the horn. Unfortunately, the puck has to entirely cross the goal line before the clock hits zero. My view of things from the press box was I was sure the puck crossed before the light to signal the end of the game came on, but I was not sure on the clock as I wasn't watching the scoreboard when the goal was scored.
The goal was called good by the referee on the ice, so the score was automatically reviewed by video replay. I was so sure the game was heading to overtime, I was preparing how to get ready for yet another overtime. I even think the players on both teams were as well, as the Chiefs were jubilant over by their bench, while the Ams were standing in shock by their goal. When the referee got off the phone and ruled no goal, I couldn't believe it. I was lost for words. So were the Chiefs as the Americans went into winning a game 7 Stanley Cup celebration. It was only after the broadcast that I saw the TV replay from the goal line camera. The puck fully...and I stress fully...crossed the line 4 frames after the clock hit zero. On TV videotape, there are 30 frames to one second of video, so 4 frames is less than 1/6th of a second. That's the blink of an eye folks. Spokane fell that short of tying the game. The important thing is the call was correctly made. In this instance, video replay worked, just not for the Chefs.
The fact of the matter is, Spokane didn't play nearly as well in game 2 as they did in game 1. The results you usually get in hockey are fair, and for the Chiefs getting a split was a just result for them. Now the question becomes, do the Chiefs play like they did in game one when they come home Wednesday; or will it be closer to a game 2 performance? Let's hope for Spokane's sake, that it's more like game one. The two teams will play 4 games in 6 nights barring a 3 game sweep by one of the clubs this week. The history of these two teams says we'll be going at least 6, maybe 7 games in this series, so buckle down for another intense week of hockey. I'll have the call on all the games on 1510 KGA. All contests will start at 7:05pm, with the pre-game at 6:30pm. Game 3 is set for Wednesday, with a buck night for game 4 on Friday at the Arena. Game 5 is set for Kennewick on Saturday, with game 6 on Monday back in Spokane. A game 7 would be held the following Wednesday in Kennewick. It promises to be another fun series between these two bitter rivals, and we certainly hope to see you at the rink to watch!