Posted on March 3, 2013 at 11:57 PM
An impressive two game sweep of Edmonton and Kamloops at home behind them, the Chiefs headed out on their next to last road trip of the regular season, a three game swing to Everett and Victoria. The biggest question for Spokane was whether they could carry over the level of play, and success in the win column, that they had enjoyed at home. Consistency has been an issue for the team all season long, and this road trip was a good chance to build some into the final 3 weeks of the regular season. Spokane was in 5th place in the Western Conference, 3 points back of Tri City for 4th and 5 points up on Victoria for the 5th spot, so these 3 games were key in the Chiefs bid to move up in the standings.
First up were the struggling Everett Silvertips, who were in the 8th and final spot in the West playoffs. Everett had lost 8 of their last 10 entering the game, but the Chiefs had dropped 2 of 3 in Everett this season, having won their last matchup two weeks previous after falling in 2 straight on the Silvertips home ice. The one thing the Chiefs did in their lone win in Everett..and conversely, didn't do in the two losses, is get off to a good start in the first period. On this night, Spokane kept the Tips off the scoreboard early in the first, and would seize the lead when Carter Proft scored from the low right circle at 15:20 to give the Chiefs a 1-0 edge. The lead didn't last long though, as the Silvertips Ryan Harrison converted a pass off the low the left circle 59 seconds later to even the game at one.
The Chiefs would get their first power play of the night with just 1:02 left in the period and they would use nearly all of it to take the lead for good. Blake Gal's backhander was saved by Everett goalie Austin Lotz, but Brenden Kichton came to the net and banged home the rebound with just .5 seconds left to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one. The goal took the air right out of the building and Spokane would keep it going in the second. The Chiefs would outshoot the Silvertips 12-7 in the period and would get on the board again when Todd Fiddler scored his 40th goal of the season on a rebound of a Gal shot at 18:11 to make it 3-1 Chiefs after two.
Spokane would cap the scoring when Kichton scored his second of the night from the right point at 7:28 of the third to put the Chiefs up 4-1. Garret Hughson would do the rest in net, turning aside 11 shots in the third to keep the Silvertips at bay, and would finish with 25 saves on the night in a 4-1 win to start the road trip. Spokane wasn't particularly sharp, but Kichton and Hughson carried the team through the rough parts of the game to give the Chiefs their 3rd straight win as they headed to Victoria for a key 2 game set with the Royals. Spokane was helped by Lethbridge, who knocked off the Royals on Wednesday to put them 7 points back of the Chiefs going into the weekend series.
The last time the two teams played in Spokane two weeks previously, the Royals jumped out to a 4-1 lead and cruised to a 5-3 win. That victory put Victoria 2 points up on the Chiefs for 4th in the West, but since that win, the Royals had dropped 6 straight as Spokane passed them in the standings. Now the Royals were desperate for the sweep of the two games to vault them right back into the race for the final home ice spot in the standings. Spokane would go with Hughson again in net as he and the team went for their 4th straight win. The Chiefs jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on a Mitch Holmberg power play goal just 3:30 into the game. Spokane then took 4 straight penalties, opening for the door for Victoria to get right back into the game.
The Royals would score on a 5 on 3 advantage at 6:31 to tie the game at one. Victoria then followed with another power play goal at 12:15 to take a 2-1 lead after the first period. The Chiefs outshot the Royals 16-10 in the period, but failed on a 5 on 3 power play of their own late in the first, going 1-3 on the man advantage, while Victoria was 2-4. Spokane would draw even in the second though as Brenden Kichton's shot from the point on a 5 on 3 at 12:56 sent the game to the third at 2-2. The Chiefs would take the lead just 6:12 into the third on a Blake Gal goal to go up 3-2, but the Royals would rally on Logan Nelson's second goal of the night at 13:24 to tie the game at three and send the game to overtime.
In the overtime, Hughson would make his biggest save of the night, denying the Royals a point blank chance net front about 2 minutes into the OT. I've lost count howww many times I've seen a big defensive play by a team, no matter the sport, lead to a big or game winning play offensively. It would happen this night for the Chiefs, as Mike Aviani won a puck battle in the corner, got the puck to Reid Gow at the blue line, who then fed Brenden Kichton. Kichton put the puck on net and Alessio Bertaggia tipped it past Royals goalie Patrik Polivka for the game winner 3:38 into overtime to give the Chiefs a hugeee 4-3 win in overtime. The win extended the Chiefs lead to 8 points over the Royals in the standings, and with Tri Cities loss to Seattle, Spokane moved past Tri into 4th place in the West by a point.
As huge as a boost as it was for Spokane, it had to be just as deflating for Victoria. They knew they needed a sweep to get back in the race for 4th place, but instead the Royals fell further behind. Holding the momentum, the Chiefs looked for the sweep of their own as they faced Victoria Saturday. Spokane went with goalie Eric Williams, who had not played since an 8-3 loss in Portland on February 18th. I just had the feeling Williams would play well though as he had logged a lot of minutes prior to that game, and was probably anxious to prove himself in the wake of the play of Garret Hughson.
The Chiefs would stake Williams to an early lead as Spokane would convert their first power play of the night. As it turns out, it was the onlyyy power play Spokane saw in the game. Bertaggia would strike once again with a rebound net front and midway through the first it was 1-0 Chiefs. Victoria would tie the game just 4 seconds after a power play chance had expired for them on a Jack Walker shot from the point with just 2:08 left in the first to tie the game at one after the first period.
The game would be decided in the second. Dylan Walchuk won a face-off to the left of Polivka and Todd Fiddler drilled his 41st goal of the year inside the near post 4:43 into the period to make it 2-1 Spokane. Just 26 seconds later, Blake Gal would score the most bizarre game winning goal I've ever seen. Gal would shoot the puck over the Victoria net off the glass behind the goal. The puck richocheted off the glass, over the goal, and right off the back of Polivka where it hit him squarely between the two 3's on his jersey. The puck fell down over the goal line and into the net as Spokane took a 3-1 lead. If it was a back breaking goal, the Royals didn't show it. Victoria's Ben Walker, Jack's brother, struck on the power play midway through the second to cut the Chiefs lead to 3-2 after two.
The Chiefs had struggled in the third in their previous two games with Everett and Victoria and were hoping to turn that around with a one goal lead. Unfortunately, it didn't happen, as the Royals came out from the beginning of the period and controlled play offensively, putting up 16 shots. Fortunately though for Spokane, Williams was top notch in the period, as he turned aside every Victoria shot.
None was bigger than a net front chance from the Royals leading goal scorer Jaime Crooks in the final minutes, as Spokane would hang on for a 3-2 win. Needless to say, it was a huge sweep for the Chiefs as they maintained their one point lead over Tri City and expanded their lead over Victoria to 10 points, virtually putting the Royals out of the race for 4th place.
With a perfect 3-0 road trip, Spokane heads home to play the final 5 games of their home schedule in the regular season. The Chiefs will host Seattle on Wednesday, before taking on Everett on Friday, Kootenay on Saturday, and the Prince George comes to town the following Tuesday. With Tri City right on their tails, every point is going to be vital for Spokane as the team enters the next to last week of the regular season. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA, with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7:05pm. Now's the time to come out and support the boys as they push for the last home ice spot in the first round of the playoffs, so I hope to see you at the rink!