Spokane Chiefs Blog: Who's next?
Posted on April 1, 2013 at 9:28 PM
With a 2-0 series lead after taking the first two games at home in their series with Tri City, the Chiefs headed down Highway 395 for the next 3 contests in Kennewick. Normally the series would have seen the next two games in Tri, but with the NCAA Women's basketball tournament at the Spokane Arena, the Chiefs were without a building for game 5, forcing the team to be on the road for 3 straight. Winning the first two games certainly eased the pressure on the team as the Chiefs knew they were assured of coming back home even they were swept in Kennewick.
The Americans made an adjustment as they replaced goalie Troy Trombley in game 3 with former Chief backup Luke Lee-Knight getting the start in game 3. The Chiefs would jump on Lee-Knight just 3:56 in when Mike Aviani stole the puck from Lee-Knight and poked the puck in the net while the Chiefs were shorthanded to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Tri City would come right back and score on a 4 on 4 at 7:11 on a goal from Parker Bowles. Spokane would fail to score on a 5 on 3 power play over 1:17, but the Chiefs would convert on the back end of the power play when Mitch Holmberg fired home his 3rd goal in 3 games at 12:55 to make it 2-1. Spokane would then score their second shorthanded goal of the period when Blake Gal rebounded a Todd Fiddler shot at 17:27 to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead after one.
When Liam Stewart scored just 6:34 into the second to put Spokane up 4-1, it looked like the Chiefs were well on their way to their third straight win in the series. If there's anything you learn about playing at Tri City though, it's that the game isn't over until the horn sounds. The Chiefs would learn that lesson the hard way in the second period. After the Chiefs failed to clear the puck behind their net, Marcus Messier ended up with the puck net front and scored at 10:38 to narrow the lead to 4-2. The goal energized the crowd and the team, and when Justin Feser slapped home a loose puck in the Spokane zone after defenseman Brenden Kichton whiffed on the puck, it was a 4-3 game. Now it was game on. The lead would become a thing of the past when Tri's Drydn Dow scored on the power play at 18:06 of the period and the two teams headed to the third all tied at four.
The Chiefs would regain the offensive advantage in the third, outshooting the Americans 12-5 in the third, but were unable to get the game winner as the two teams headed to overtime for the first time in the series. Tri certainly had the advantage going into OT, as they not only had come back from a 3 goal deficit, but had the power play to start the extra session as Carter Proft was whistled for a questionableee penalty in the final seconds of regulation. Spokane was able to kill off the Tri power play and the two teams went back and forth until the mid period time out. Out of the time out though, Tri City put the pressure on in the Chiefs zone and the puck would pop out to the stick of Connor Rankin, who scored his first of the playoffs at 10:46 of overtime to give Tri a 5-4 win and put the Americans right back in the series at 2 games to 1.
It was certainly a tough to swallow game for Spokane, and I was more than a little concerned that if the team dwelled on this loss, the series could do an about face very quickly. That was the mission for the Chiefs going into game 4...flush the previous game and continue to do the right things that had put them up 2-1 in the series. The start to game 4 wasn't the best for Spokane as an errant pass from defenseman Reid Gow found the stick of Tri's Jesse Mychan. The puck then found its way to Justin Feser, and the Americans leading scorer had a wide open look in the slot and he snapped home his second goal in as many games to make it 1-0 Tri. The Chiefs would get back even later in the period, but not without some controversy.
Tri City defenseman Justin Hamonic took Chiefs forward Blake Gal into Lee-Knight in the crease to form a 3 car pile up. Hamonic got up pretty quickly, but Gal and Lee-Knight remained on the ice for a good 10 seconds. The referee watched the two rolling around, but never blew the whistle. Finally the two players got back up, but it took a couple seconds for Lee-Knight to regain his bearings. While the Tri goalie just got situated, the Chiefs Adam Helewka got the puck in the right circle. Helewka spotted an opening on the far post and snapped in his first goal of the series at 15:38 to tie the game at one. The Americans crowd went beserk, feeling Gal should have been called for interference or that the whistle should have been blown to let the two get up. Neither happened and let's just say the Americans crowd was in ill humor for the rest of the game.
The Chiefs didn't help matters when Todd Fiddler banged home a rebound of a Dylan Walchuk breakaway shot at 19:20 of the period to give Spokane a 2-1 lead heading to the second. Neither team would get on the board in a fairly even second period, although Tri City got all 3 power plays in the stanza, but Spokane was perfect on the penalty kill to still hold a 2-1 lead going into the third. Brenden Kichton would score on a rebound of his own shot at 6:35 of the third to put the Chiefs up 3-1. Once again, I got that feeling that the game was farrr from done. When Riley Whittingham took an ill advised penalty with just over 6 minutes left in the game, it opened the door for another Tri City comeback.
The Americans took advantage on their only power play of the third on a Mitch Topping goal at 14:50 of the period to cut the lead to 3-2 and give Spokane that Oh, no feeling once again. Like he had in game 3, it was Dow that got the equalizer, this time at 17:17 of the third to tie the game at three and send the contest to overtime. Both teams got great looks in the first minute, but Williams and Lee-Knight kept the game going with great saves. Lee-Knight's night...and series would come to an end a couple minutes into overtime when Helewka was taken down into the Tri City goalie. leaving Lee-Knight with an injured shoulder. Troy Trombley, who had started and lost the first two games of the series, relieved Lee-Knight and immediately stopped a Connor Chartier shot point blank to keep the game tied.
Unlike game 3 though, Spokane would get game winner on this night, when Bertaggia passed to Gal behind the Tri City defense. Gal broke in and snapped a wrister top shelf past Trombley at 5:10 of overtime to give the Chiefs a huge 4-3 win and with it a 3-1 series lead. Looking at the stat sheet, it indicated a stark contrast. Spokane would outshoot Tri City 47-32 in the game...while not having oneee power play in the game! Tri would go 3 for 4, but for the Chiefs to outshoot a team by 15 while being a -4 in special teams opportunities is one of the more remarkable feats I've seen in playoff hockey.
A win is a win is a win though, especially in the playoffs. Now Spokane had a chance to close out the series with their final game in Tri as the two teams met for game 5. Trombley would get the start as Lee-Knight was out for the series with his shoulder injury. After no power plays in game three, and just 8 in 4 games, Spokane would generate 4 in the first period. The lack of activity for the power play unit showed though as the Chiefs went 0-4 on the man advantage. Spokane would break through first though as Mike Aviani tipped a Kichton shot at 14:04 of the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. Kichton would add to the lead with a power play goal at 7:50 of the second as the Chiefs held a 2-0 advantage after two periods.
Spokane had a chance to go up 3 when Bertaggia got a penalty shot early in the third, but Trombley stopped the Chiefs winger and gave his team a big boost. The Americans then gave their crowd a shot in the arm on a Malte Stromwall goal at 10:38 of the third to get the Ams within 2-1 with plenty of time left. Bertaggia would get even with Trombley though, as his shot at 15:09 of the period found its way through the pads and into the net to give Spokane a hugee insurance goal at 3-1. Tri City would pull Trombley from net in the final 4 minutes, but the Chiefs actually generated more chances towards the empty net than the Americans did with the extra skater. The Chiefs would hang on for a 3-1 win as Eric Williams was sterling in net, turning aside 36 of 37 shots to push Spokane on to the Western Conference semi-finals for the third straight year.
Spokane becomes the first team to advance to the semi's, and will now await their next opponent. As of Monday, Portland, Kamloops and Seattle had 3-2 series lead, and a number of scenario's exist as to who and when Spokane will play. The next series will most likely get underway Friday, April 5th and the chances are pretty good the Chiefs will open on the road, but like playoff games themselves, anythinggg can happen. Keep up to date at the team website, spokanechiefs.com or here on the hockey page on krem.com for the latest. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the time off and we'll see you at the rink soon!