In what seems like a blink of an eye with this season, the Chiefs have entered the final week of the first half of the 2018 campaign as they headed into the holidays with a 4 game week against U.S, Division opponents. Spokane was in third place in the division, trailing first place Portland by 6 points and second place Everett by three, while leading 4th place Tri City by 2 points. and 5th place Seattle by 5. It's a tight division, and the Chiefs had an opportunity to make a quick move up in the standings as they played the two teams they are chasing, Portland and Everett in three of the four games. Spokane would start the week with a rare Tuesday home game against division leading Portland, looking for their first win against the Winterhawks this season. The Chiefs had lost 4 straight to Portland in large part due to their inability to score goals on Hawks goalie Cole Kehler. Spokane had managed just 4 goals in their 4 defeats, scoring 1.2,0, and 1 goals against Portland. The Winterhawks had been struggling of late though, having lost 5 straight, so Spokane was hoping to keep that streak going on Tuesday.
The Chiefs were still without starting goalie Dawson Weatherill and would be without him all week. Donovan Buskey got the start Tuesday and things started well for Spokane as Hudson Elynuik scored his team leading 15th goal of the year late in the first to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. In the second, the two teams were on a 4 on 4 after matching minor penalties, and the Winterhawks made the most of the situation. Portland scored on a rebound at 11:51 to tie the game, then would score on a breakaway after a careless Chiefs turnover at the Portland blue line 1:09 later to take a 2-1 lead. Spokane would recover from the brief meltdown to tie the contest back up at 2 as Kailer Yamamoto scored for the first time since November 11th late in the second to send the game to the third even at 2 apiece. The third period would be a back and forth affair until Portland's Keoni Texeira split through the Spokane defense and walked in to score on a back hander net front at 6:56 of the period to give Portland a 3-2 lead. Spokane would pull Buskey in the final minute and a half, but would fail to get the equalizer. Portland would put salt in the wound with an empty netter with just 2 seconds left to seal a 4-2 win as the Chiefs dropped their 5th in a row to the Winterhawks. Portland took a 8 point lead over the Chiefs in addition to snapping their 5 game losing streak.
Spokane would then go into a 3 games in 3 nights weekend on Friday as they hosted second place Everett. The Chiefs had been shut out by the Silvertips in Everett three games earlier by a 3-0 margin. The good news for the Chiefs though would be Everett starting goalie Carter Hart would not be back in net Friday as he was off with Team Canada preparing for the World Junior Tournament. The bad news for Spokane would be they would be without Yamamoto and defenseman Filip Kral for the weekend as they were off at World Junior as well. The team called up defenseman Tyson Feist, who played earlier in the year with the Chiefs and Spokane's first round pick this year, forward Jack Finley. Things didn't exactly go as planned for the Chiefs at the start as Everett scored on their first power play of the night just 4:47 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. The Silvertips have been extremelyyy tough with early leads, as proven in their two wins in Everett over the Chiefs. On this night though, Spokane would overcome the early advantage as the Chiefs scored on their first power play on a Zach Fischer goal at 11:43 to tie the game at one after the first.
The Silvertips would come right back though with a goal 5:33 into the second to re-take the lead at 2-1. Spokane would battle their way back into the game as Nolan Reid scored his 11th of the year at 14:32 to tie the contest at two. The Chiefs would take their first lead of the game at 17:58 when Jeff Faith's shot from the blue line found the net for his career high third goal of the year to give Spokane a 3-2 lead after two. Everett answered on the power play again early in the third though to get back even at 3 apiece. The Chiefs slowly started getting some fore-check pressure going midway through the period and it paid off as Fischer stole the puck, fed Woods on the right side of the net, and Woods hit a wide open Hudson Elynuik for the eventual game winner at 12:47 of the third. Everett pulled their goalie in the final minute and got a tremendous chance net front in the final 35 seconds, but Donovan Buskey made his biggest save of the night to preserve the victory and Elynuik scored in the empty net off the rebound with 28 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 win. Spokane snapped Everett's 9 game win streak and evened the season series at 2-2 as the home teams have held serve thus far. The win pulled the Chiefs within 3 points of Everett for second and put the team 6 back of division leading Portland as Spokane headed to the Rose City to play the Winterhawks the next night.
As I alluded to earlier, the Chiefs haven't had a lot of success with Portland, including the loss at home to start the week. Now the team had a chance to not only get their first win against the Winterhawks, but an opportunity to get within 4 points with a regulation win. Things could not have started worse for Spokane on Saturday. Portland would score back to back short handed goals on Spokane power plays and just over 8.5 minutes into the game, the Chiefs were down 2-0. With the trouble scoring goals against Portland goalie Cole Kehler, things did not bode well for the Chiefs. Midway through the period though, Spokane would get on the board on a Cedric Chenier rebound to cut the lead in half at 2-1. The goal seemed to spark Spokane as the Chiefs would capitalize on their next two power plays. Eli Zummack and Riley Woods scored on tip shots net front late in the first to put the Chiefs ahead 3-2 after one. Spokane had a one goal lead after one on Tuesday, but unlike that game, the Chiefs added to their margin in the second.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan would score Spokane's 4th straight goal and third in a row on the power play midway through the second to give the Chiefs a 4-2 lead. Portland would answer right back with a goal less than 3 minutes later to cut the margin to 4-3, but Zummack would score his second of the night on a rebound at 15:21 to put Spokane ahead 5-3 after two periods. The Chiefs penalty kill was huge on this night, going a perfect 7 for 7, including 3 straight kills in the third. One of those was on a 4 on 3 chance for over a minute, as the Chiefs maintained a two goal lead and took the crowd and momentum out of the game. Portland would pull Kehler from net in the final 3 minutes, but Anderson-Dolan would steal the puck in the Portland end to score an empty netter with just over 2 minutes left to cap off a 6-3 victory. Donovan Buskey turned aside a career high 37 shots to get the win as the Chiefs solved Kehler and the Winterhawks for the first time in 6 tries. The win pulled Spokane within 4 points of first place Portland in the division as the Chiefs headed home to finish off their 3 games in 3 nights stretch, not to mention the first half of the season, as they hosted Seattle at the Spokane Arena Saturday.
Spokane had knocked off the Thunderbirds 8 days earlier at home, but while the Chiefs were slugging it out in Portland in their second straight night, the T-Birds were sitting at home resting after having Saturday off. It was essential the Chiefs got off to a good start as there wasn't going to be a lot in the tank to expend on a big comeback. Unfortunately for Spokane, Seattle came out and scored on the first shift as they took a 1-0 lead just 20 seconds into the game. The Chiefs got right back in the game when Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored on the team's first power play chance just over 3 minutes in to tie the game at one. It would prove to be the high point for Spokane on this night, as Seattle would score two goals later in the first to take a 3-1 advantage into the second. The second period would prove to be the decisive one as the Thunderbirds put up three goals to blow the game open at 6-1. Anderson-Dolan would score his second power play goal of the night early in the third to make it a 6-2 game. Riley Woods would tally just over a minute later to bring the Chiefs within 6-3 and give the team and the fans some life.
That energy would be quickly extinguished as Seattle scored less than minute after Woods goal to go up 7-3. The roof would cave in from there, as Seattle would ring up 3 goals over the final 3 minutes to hand the Chiefs their worst loss of the year at 10-3. Not exactly the way you want to go into the Christmas break as Spokane will be tied for third in the division with Tri City, 5 points back of division leading Everett, and 4 back of second place Portland. The Chiefs got a chance to see their first two picks in this past year's draft as first round pick Finley and second round selection, goalie Campbell Arnold, saw action. Each picked up an assist over the weekend and got some valuable experience going forward. The team was minus forward Riley McKay, who has a suspension to be determined after a major penalty at the end of the game in Portland. Jeff Faith also missed the game after getting knocked out on a hit in Portland, but both will be back after the break. Spokane will now get 9 days off before getting back on the ice for 4 games in 5 nights starting on December 27th at home against Seattle. The Chiefs will face Seattle and Tri City in home and home series to bring in the New Year. It will be nice to get a break, especially after the bus travel over the past weekend, as the Chiefs are squarely in position to make a run in the division. Hope all of you have a great Christmas and we'll see you after the Holiday!