The last week of the regular season would see the Chiefs play another 4 games in 5 nights stretch, something that had been fairly common in the second half of the season for the team. With road games at Seattle and Tri Cities, and home contests with Kamloops and Seattle, the first glance was a 3-1 week would be great, a 2-2 week pretty attainable. The question was, how good of a week was needed for the Chiefs to secure the 4th place spot in the Western Conference and with it, home ice advantage in their series with Vancouver?
Game one of the week would begin Tuesday in Seattle against the U.S. Division last place Thunderbirds. Spokane had won their previous three meetings in Kent over the T-Birds and had shutout Seattle in the Chiefs last visit. The first period was fairly even with neither team scoring as the Chiefs outshot Seattle 11-7. Spokane would start the second period with back to back power play chances, but would come up empty, as the power play continued to struggle for the Chiefs. Seattle, who had the next to worst power play percentage in the league coming into the game at just 14.9% success, would have no such troubles. The Thunderbirds would convert their first man advantage of the period when Connor Honey converted a 3 on 2 rush into the Chiefs zone after a neutral zone turnover to make it 1-0 Seattle. Less than 4 minutes later, Seth Swenson swatted home a rebound in the crease to give Seattle a 2-0 advantage after two periods.
Seattle would get just one power play in the third, and sure enough, would take advantage of that one too, as Honey went right through the defense to back hand one home early in the period to make it 3-0 Thunderbirds. The Chiefs would answer back quickly when Steve Kuhn scored his 13th of the season at 8:08 to make it a 3-1 game. Spokane would get 3 power play chances in the third, including two after Kuhn's goal, but the power play came up 0-6 on the night as Seattle skated to a 3-1 win. The Chiefs outshot Seattle 21-6 in the third on their way to a 42-24 shots advantage, but T-Birds goalie Calvin Pickard's 41 save night would send the Chiefs to a damaging loss, as the team remained two points back of Vancouver for 4th in the conference. The good news for the Chiefs is they had a chance to pull back even with a win at home the following night against Kamloops.
The B.C. Division champs had beaten the Chiefs in the two teams previous three contests, and Kamloops was in a battle of their own, trying to chase down Tri City and Portland for the top spot in the West. Unlike the night before, the Chiefs power play would come out firing in this contest, as Brenden Kichton would wrist one from the left point just over 3 minutes into the first to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Kamloops would even the game midway through the period to send the game to the second tied at one. The Blazers controlled most of the first, outshooting the Chiefs 17-9, so Spokane had to feel pretty good about being even after 20 minutes rather than being down 1 or 2 goals.
The second period would open up offensively, as each team would put up 3 goals. Kichton would start the scoring with his second tally of the night just 36 seconds into the stanza when his shot from the right point beat Blazer back up goalie Cam Lanigan through the pads. Lanigan took over for starter Cole Cheveldave after Cheveldave left the game due to illness. It was the Chiefs that got ill shortly after Kichton's goal though, as the Blazers scored back to back tallies just 1:25 apart to take a 3-2 lead. Spokane's Darren Kramer, who had several chances turned away earlier in the contest, would finally break through at 8:47 of the period to tie the game at three. Dylan Walchuk would then steal the puck in the Blazer end and score on a partial breakaway 1:50 later to give the Chiefs the lead back at 4-3. Kamloops Tyler Bozon would get his second goal of the night late in period to bring the Blazers back even at 4 as the game headed to the third period.
The offensive explosion of the second would be replaced with a defensive third period as both teams would not find the net through the first 19 minutes of the period. The Chiefs would be the team to break through in the final minute as Reid Gow let go of a shot from the point with just 47.5 seconds left right as a Chiefs power play expired. Gow's shot found it's way past Lanigan and Spokane took a 5-4 lead. Kamloops would pull Lanigan in the final seconds, but Spokane would clear the puck out of their defensive zone and Dominick Uher would put one in the empty net for his team high 33rd of the season with just a second left to put away a 6-4 Chiefs win. It was a huge bounce back win for Spokane and the victory enabled the Chiefs to tie Vancouver for the 4th spot with just two games remaining.
Spokane knew they had to win their last 2 games, as Vancouver owned the tiebreaker with two more regular season wins. If the Chiefs beat Seattle at home, and then won at Tri City, and Vancouver lost one of two to Kelowna, Spokane would get the home ice #4 spot in their series with the Giants. Seattle knew if they beat Spokane, and then defeated Everett at home the next night, they would sneak into the post season with the #8 seed. With that backdrop, the two teams battled through an even first period. Seattle scored on their first power play of the night just 2:11 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Marek Kalus would get the Chiefs back to 1-1 when he snapped a shot from the left goal line at 9:14 of the period. Spokane failed to get a power play while killing off 2 of 3 Seattle power plays.
The second period would go back and forth as well. The Chiefs Blake Gal would score off a rebound on the power play early in the period to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead. Spokane would give the lead right back on a turnover in the Seattle zone that led to a Seth Swenson goal the other way at 9:04 to tie the game at 2. Dylan Walchuk would score 7 seconds into a Chiefs power play at 13:08 with a shot off the face off to put Spokane back in the lead at 3-2. Seattle would take advantage of a Chiefs breakdown in their defensive zone in the final minute when Colin Jacobs scored on a rebound at 19:29 to bring the T-Birds even at 3 apiece. It was a huge goal for Seattle as it definitely gave them the momentum boost going into the third period.
The two teams would slug it out in the third as Spokane would get the only power play of the period, but would fail to score. Seattle got away only 7 shots in the period, but would score the game winner when former Chief Burke Gallimore tipped in a Jacobs pass at 15:11 to give the Thunderbirds a 4-3 lead. Spokane would put on a furious rally in the final minute with their net empty but would fail to score with a couple of golden chances net front, including one from Mitch Holmberg with goalie Calvin Pickard out of the net that the Seattle defense blocked to preserve a 4-3 Seattle win. It was a devastating loss for the Chiefs, as Vancouver rallied from a 2 goal third period deficit to beat Kelowna and clinch the home ice spot in their series with the Chiefs. It didn't help that the Thunderbirds put on an over the top classless display after the game, doing a Tebow on the ice and flaunting their win in front of the Chiefs fans. I've seen a lottt of teams celebrate wins, including the Chiefs, but I've never seen a display like I saw after this game. It seemed fitting that the Thunderbirds would lose their next two games and miss the playoffs. Karma can be a real b**** you know.
The loss didn't leave anything for the Chiefs to play for the following night as the team headed to Tri Cities to play the Americans. Tri had a ton to play for as they were just one point back of Edmonton for the top spot in the league and a win would give them a shot at home ice throughout the playoffs. Spokane decided to rest defenseman Corey Baldwin, while Tri City would bring their full roster to the table. The Chiefs came out gunning from the start, as Mitch Holmberg fired a shot from the left side at 1:42 of the first to get Spokane an early 1-0 lead. The Americans countered with a power play goal from Patrick Holland at 4:51 to tie the game at one. Spokane would bounce back at the 13 minute mark when Kichton scored his third goal in three games to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead after one. For Kichton, it wrapped up the second straight season that he led all WHL defenseman in scoring.
Tri City came back and tied the game midway through the second on a Jesse Mychan back hander as the Ams outshot the Chiefs 11-3 in the second. All the Chiefs could ask for is an even game going into the final 20 minutes and that's what they got. Tri City would come out and outshoot the Chiefs 17-8 in the third, but Spokane got the shot that counted when Dylan Walchuk converted a power play at 8:31 to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead. Goalie Mac Engel and the defense bucked down in the final minutes, as Engel came away with 30 saves to get Spokane a big 3-2 road win. The victory snapped a 4 game losing streak to the arch rival Ams and gave the Chiefs some huge momentum as they head back on the road to play the Giants in back to back playoff games Friday and Saturday.
The series with the Giants should be as good as the previous two series back in 2008 and 2009. Those series went 6 and 7 games respectively, with the two teams splitting series wins. Both regular season meetings were won by Vancouver, 3-2 in a shootout win in Vancouver in October, and then the Giants edged the Chiefs 2-1 at the Spokane Arena in mid-February in a game that really looked like a playoff preview. Puck management will critical in this series as the two teams like to grind it out offensively on the forecheck and wear their opponents down defensively. From a hockey purists perspective, this will be a fun series to watch. If you like run and gun offense and back and forth action, this series may not be for you. Game one and two are in Vancouver Friday and Saturday. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA beginning Friday with the pre-game show at 7pm and the puck drop at 7:30pm. Saturday's game will have the pre-game at 6:30pm and the puck drop at 7pm. The series will return to Spokane for games three and for on Tuesday, March 27 and Wednesday, March 28. It should be a good one folks and we hope to see you at the rink!