When February swings around, it's the beginning of crunch time in the Western Hockey League. There are now just 6 weeks left in the regular season and in the Chiefs case, just 21 games remaining in the 72 game campaign. Spokane is in a fight for their playoff lives, as they entered the week in last place in the U.S. Division and holding the 8th and final playoff berth in the league's Western Conference. The Chiefs were only 3 points back of third place Tri City and 2 behind 4th place Seattle in the division though, so with a good week in the win-loss department, Spokane could pull themselves into third in the U.S. by the end of the week. Spokane's lead over the 9th place team in the conference was 7 points over Kamloops, and that is where the Chiefs started their week as they visited the Blazers on Wednesday night. It was the 5th game of a season long 7 game road trip. The Chiefs had gone 2-0-2 in the first 4 games, with their 2 overtime losses coming at Everett and Tri City, where the team would finish the road swing on Friday and Saturday.
Spokane had not fared well against Kamloops this season, going 0-2 in the first two meetings, including a 2-1 loss at Kamloops in early January in a game the Chiefs out shot the Blazers 48-28. The team did get some good news, as they welcomed back forward Eli Zummack, who had been out of the lineup a month after being injured in Kelowna in early January. Spokane was without forward/defenseman Jeff Faith, who did not make the road trip after being injured in the previous Friday's win at Kootenay. The team did pick up forward Cordel Larson, the team's 9th round pick in 2016, as he made his debut in Kamloops. The Blazers would jump out to the early lead as Brodi Stuart's shot from below the goal line hit off goalie Dawson Weatherill and in the net to give Kamloops a 1-0 lead after one. Spokane would come back and tie it up midway through the second when Luke Toporowski scored his 5th goal in 7 games to tie the contest at one. The Chiefs would take their first lead when Riley Woods notched his career high 20th goal of the season on a short handed breakaway at 18:04 to give Spokane a 2-1 lead after two.
Spokane would turn it up defensively in the third, as Weatherill saved all 8 shots to finish with 21 saves on the night. The Chiefs would cap the scoring when Ethan McIndoe scored on an empty net goal with just under a minute left to wrap up a 3-1 victory. It was Spokane's first win over Kamloops this season in three tries and put the Chiefs 9 points ahead of the Blazers in the race for a Western Conference playoff berth. The victory also brought the Chiefs into a tie with Seattle for 4th place in the U.S. Division, just one point back of third place Tri City. The team was now 10 points back of first place Everett in the division and would have a chance to cut into that deficit as the Chiefs headed to Everett on Friday night in game 6 of the 7 game road trip. The last journey to Everett ended in bitter disappointment as the team coughed up a 5-3 third period lead in a 6-5 overtime defeat. Friday's game didn't start well for the Chiefs either, as a Garrett Pilon goal midway through the first period gave the Silvertips a 1-0 lead after one. Spokane didn't fare much better in the second either, as Everett out shot the Chiefs 17-7 in the period, but goalie Dawson Weatherill turned aside every Tips chance to keep Spokane within one heading into the third.
The Chiefs couldn't find the answer to Carter Hart for much of the third period and had to pull Weatherill to bring on an extra attacker with less than 2.5 minutes remaining in the game. The move would pay off as Hudson Elynuik's pass found an open Jaret Anderson-Dolan between the circles. Anderson-Dolan would snap home his team leading 29th goal of the season at 18:11 of the period to tie the game at one and force overtime for the second straight meeting between the two teams. Unlike the last match up though, this overtime affair would end with Spokane celebrating as Kailer Yamamoto scored his second game winner in OT this season with a goal at 2:58 of overtime to give the Chiefs a huge 2-1 win. The victory snapped a 2 game losing streak to the Silvertips and lifted Spokane past both Seattle and Tri City into third place in the U.S. Division with 63 points, one ahead for both the Thunderbirds and Americans. Spokane was now 4-0-2 on their 7 game road swing, and hoped to end the road trip with points in all 7 contests as they headed to Tri City to close out the road trip Saturday.
Spokane had also lost an overtime heart breaker to the Ams the last time they visited a couple weeks back, blowing a 4-1 second period lead. A win would also even the season series with Tri City, which is huge considering the first tie breaker is head to head match ups. Unlike the other games this week, it was the Chiefs that would jump out to the early lead as Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored his team leading 30th of the year just 6:01 into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. Tri City would answer right back with two goals late in the first, one off a 5 on 3 power play and the other on a 4 on 4 situation, to grab a 2-1 lead after one. Spokane managed just 3 shots in the first, despite getting 3 power play chances. The team would turn it around in the second though. The Chiefs would get a 5 on 3 power play of their own and Ty Smith's slap shot 13 seconds into it would tie the game at two. Ethan McIndoe then notched the team's second straight power play marker 24 seconds later to make it 3-2 Spokane at the end of two periods.
It would be a lead the team would never lose. Anderson-Dolan scored his second of the night after the Chiefs killed off a Tri City power play early in the third to give Spokane a 4-2 advantage.
Tri City came right back though and scored only 44 seconds later to cut the margin to 4-3. The game was very much up in the air, but just over 3 minutes later, Anderson-Dolan took a puck up the left wing and zipped a perfect pass to the far post to Kailer Yamamoto, and he finished off a career high 5 point night with his 12th goal of the year at 12:46 to put the Chiefs back up by 2 at 5-3. That goal took the air out of the building and Anderson-Dolan would finish off a 5 point evening with his first hat trick of the season on a empty net tally in the final minute to wrap up a 6-3 Chiefs win. It was Spokane's first regulation win over Tri City this year as the Chiefs evened the season series at 4-4. The team also enjoys a 3 point lead over the Americans and Seattle for 3rd place in the U.S. Division. Spokane had now won 4 in a row, matching their longest winning streak of the season, and had earned points in their last 10 contests. The victory also capped a 5-0-2 record on the season high 7 game road trip, as the club earned 12 of a possible 14 points. Now it was time for the team to try to earn some points at home as they headed to home ice for the first time in 3 weeks as they capped their 4 games in 5 nights, and 3 in 3 at the Spokane Arena against Everett.
The Silvertips had recovered nicely from their loss to the Chiefs Friday, as the Tips shut out Vancouver 5-0 at home Saturday. Everett was still on top of the division by 2 points over Portland and were 9 up on the Chiefs. With just 18 games left in the season, Spokane needed to earn as many points as they could if they hoped to make a run to the top of the division. The game didn't exactly start the way the team envisioned as the Chiefs managed just 3 shots, matching a season low, in the first period. The good news was Spokane kept Everett off the board as well as the two teams were 0-0 after one. The game remained scoreless winding down in the second period when the Silvertips broke through with a goal at 17:11 to take a 1-0 lead. Everett would come right back and score with a minute left in the period on a rebound goal from Riley Sutter that dribbled by goalie Donovan Buskey, who was making his first start in a month. That score gave the Tips a seemingly commanding 2-0 advantage heading into the third.
That lead would grow to 3-0 on a Connor Dewar goal at 12:32 of the third, and the game looked to be over for Spokane. The Chiefs got a power play goal from Jaret Anderson-Dolan, his 5th over the last 3 games, and team leading 33rd of the year to cut the lead to 3-1 at 13:10. Kailer Yamamoto then tipped home a Filip Kral shot from the left side at 17:07 and suddenly the Chiefs and the home crowd came to life. Spokane would pull Buskey in the final minute and a half and would have a couple of great shots in the final minute, but would come up just short as their 4 game win streak ended with a 3-2 loss. The Chiefs remained 3 points up on Tri City and Seattle, but fell 11 back of the division leading Silvertips and 9 back of second place Portland. With 17 games remaining, the chances of Spokane catching those two is becoming slim, so the Chiefs will have to concentrate on holding on to where they are in the standings. The biggest thing for the Chiefs is they lead Kamloops by 9 points for the last playoff berth in the West.
Spokane can go a longgg ways towards putting themselves in the post season if they can pick up a victory in their next contest when they host Kamloops at the Arena on Wednesday. The Chiefs will finish their week with back to back games Saturday and Sunday as they host Tri City and then travel to Seattle, the two teams right behind Spokane in the standings. Every week is big when you get in the final month of the season, but this week is huuggeee. Three wins and Spokane is in great shape. Conversely, three losses and things start to look a bit shaky. Let's hope the team rebounds from their loss to Everett and get right back to where they were on the recently completed 7 game road trip.
I'll have the call on 1510 KGA for the games Wednesday and Sunday, while Saturday's game will be on 94.1 FM the Bear due to Gonzaga basketball. The pre-game shows will be at 6:30 pm with the puck drops at 7:05 from the Arena on Wednesday and Saturday. Sunday's game from Seattle will start with the pre-game show at 4:30 pm and the puck dropping from Kent at 5:05 pm. The team expecting to get forwards Zach Fischer, Eli Zummack and Riley McKay back from injury this week as the team will benefit from getting those veterans back in the lineup down the stretch. It's a big week and let's hope the team gets rolling on a new win streak. We hope to see you at the rink!
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