With 3 straight wins entering the week, the Chiefs were starting to put together their best stretch of hockey this season. Spokane was making ground on second place Portland, and just as importantly, starting to get some separation from 4th place Tri City in the U.S. Division. The Chiefs were 8 points back of Portland for home ice in the first round of the playoffs, while leading Tri City by 5, leaving the Americans in the first wild card spot in the West. With just 4 weeks remaining in the regular season, it was time for Spokane to make a move in a very competitive Western Conference.
The Chiefs faced a challenging week as they faced Red Deer, Vancouver and Tri City. First up were the Rebels from the Central Division, who had gone on a 5 game losing streak to knock themselves out of first in the division to 5th. They were opening up their U.S. Division swing Tuesday at the Spokane Arena, and came ready to play as they scored just 1:58 into the game to take an early 1-0 lead. Red Deer then went on the power play to try and extend their margin, but the Chiefs countered as Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored on a partial breakaway one second after the power play expired to even the game at one after the first. Red Deer re-took the lead just over 7 minutes into the second period, but Spokane answered right back 1:32 later as Ty Smith scored a power play goal to make it a 2-2 game. The Chiefs then took their first lead of the night when Adam Beckman re-directed a Filip Kral shot with just 1:18 left in the period to give Spokane a 3-2 lead after two.
Red Deer would re-tie the game just 2:06 into the third to tie the contest at three, and for the third straight year, the two teams would head to overtime even at three apiece. Spokane had dropped the previous two, and had not beaten the Rebels at the Arena since October of 2008. Those streaks would come to an end 30 seconds into overtime, as Smith scored his second goal of the night on a power play that occurred when the Rebels had too many men on the ice in the waning seconds of regulation. Despite being out shot, the Chiefs won the special teams battle as they went 2-5 on the power play and a perfect 3-3 on the penalty kill. The win was a season high 4th straight for Spokane and definitely gave them a boost as they headed out on the road for the last two games of the week.
First up were the B.C. Division leaders, Vancouver. The Chiefs had dropped the first two meetings with the Giants this season, losing in a shootout in the first weekend of the season, and then blowing a 3 goal first period lead at home in mid-January. That loss started Spokane on a season high 5 game losing streak, so the team was anxious to get a little pay back at the Giants expense. Vancouver meantime had moved within 2 points of Everett for the top spot in the West, so they were trying to move into home ice throughout the conference post season with a win on Friday. Vancouver also had the best home record in the West, while the Chiefs had lost 5 of their last 6 on the road. This game would prove to be a real test of whether Spokane was capable of playing with one of the favorites in the conference.
Spokane came out looking like they were ready to hand the Giants a rare home loss as Luc Smith's power play goal just over 3 minutes into the game gave the Chiefs a quick 1-0 lead. Just as quick as they scored though, the Chiefs gave it back as Vancouver scored off the next face-off and 15 seconds after the Chiefs took the lead, the Giants tied the game at one. That goal set the Chiefs on their heels for a bit, and 10 minutes later Vancouver converted their only power play of the period to take a 2-1 lead after one. The second period would be pretty even for the majority of the stanza, although Spokane only managed 5 shots on goal in the middle 20. The period and the game would turn in the final two minutes of the second. The Chiefs took back to back minor penalties and Vancouver capitalized on both as they scored two power play goals 31 seconds apart in the last minute and a half to take a commanding 4-1 lead after two.
The Chiefs failed on 3 power plays in the second, including one to start the third as a comeback attempt looked bleak at best. Spokane did get some signs of life when Smith scored his second goal of the night, and 4th in two games against the Giants, nearly 4 minutes into the third to make it 4-2. The Chiefs then got within 4-3 as Eli Zummack, who extended his assist scoring streak to 10 straight earlier in the game, scored his 12th of the year at 11:51. Spokane appeared to tie the game when a rebound of a Zummack shot went off Jake McGrew net front, but McGrew kicked the puck in and the goal was waved off with about 5 minutes left. Vancouver then scored off the rush less than 30 seconds later to go up 5-3 with just over 4 minutes to go. The Chiefs cut the deficit back to one on Riley Woods team high 27th of the year with 1:10 remaining, but Spokane's comeback fell short as they saw their 4 game win streak come to an end with a 5-4 loss. Special teams were the difference, as the Chiefs league leading power play went just 1 for 7 while the penalty kill was a woeful 1 for 4.
To make matters worse, Tri City won that night at home over Kamloops, so the Americans had cut Spokane's lead to just 3 points for third place in the U.S. Division, as the Chiefs embarked on the all night ride to Tri to close out the week the next night. Kennewick has been a house of horrors for Spokane this season, as the Chiefs have lost all 3 games, getting outscored 15-3 in the process. The Americans had won 5 of 7 over Spokane this year, and another regulation win would bring Tri within just a point of the Chiefs with 13 games remaining. Spokane would come out and out shoot Tri 15-9 in the first period, but fell behind 2-0 after one as the Chiefs gave up yet another power play goal to their opponent. The second period would be nothing short of a disaster in the first 3:03, as Spokane gave up 2 short handed goals 18 seconds apart in the first 1:19, and then gave up another tally to fall behind 5-0. That spelled the end of the night for goalie Bailey Brkin as Reece Klassen took over.
Spokane started to rally at the end of the second as Nolan Reid and Michael King scored 22 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the period to cut the deficit to 5-2 after 40 minutes. A Klassen turnover led to an easy Tri City goal just 1:40 into the third though, and Spokane was down 6-2 with little hope in sight. The Chiefs would dominate the game from that point however, as they would hold Tri to just that single shot until the final 3 seconds of the game. Spokane would get an Ethan McIndoe goal at 4:43 to get themselves within 6-3. Adam Beckman then scored back to back goals to suddenly get the Chiefs within 6-5 with less than 5 minutes left. Despite pulling Klassen in the final 2 minutes, and out shooting Tri 14-2 in the third, the comeback fell short as an empty netter from Tri with 3 seconds left capped a 7-5 victory. The Chiefs out chanced the Americans 50-22 in the game...you read that right..50-22, yet the short handed goals and mistaken play early in the second cost Spokane dearly.
The loss was also costly as Portland won on Saturday to pull 8 points ahead of the Chiefs for second in the division, while Tri City is just 1 point back. Both the Winterhawks and Americans play two games this upcoming week before the Chiefs take the ice again, so there's a distinct possibility Spokane could find themselves 12 back of Portland and 3 behind Tri City before next weekend. Spokane will get plenty of practice time this week in their last light week of the regular season. The Chiefs have just two games as they host Kelowna and Tri City in must win games at the Arena this Friday and Saturday. After the weekend, Spokane will have just 11 games left in the season, with only 4 at home. I'll have the call on 103.5 The Game on Friday, while Saturday's game will be on 94.1 FM the Bear due to Gonzaga basketball. Pre-game shows start at 6:30 pm with the puck drops at 7:05 pm. Let's hope the team buckles down defensively and picks up a couple of much needed victories. We hope to see you at the rink!