SPOKANE, Wash. — With just 3 weeks left in the regular season, the Chiefs found themselves tied for third in the U.S. Division, the spot that would assure themselves a re-match with Portland from last year's first round playoff series. If the team slips behind Tri City for that third place spot, the Chiefs would be in the first wild card, playing in all likelihood, B.C. Division champion Vancouver in the first round. With just 11 games remaining before the playoffs, the Chiefs were in desperate need to find themselves playing their best hockey of the season. Part of that process would start with trying to improve their play on the road. Spokane was just 10-13-2-2 away from the Spokane Arena this season and only 2-5-0-1 since the beginning of 2019. Needless to say, a 4 game road swing was a perfect test to see if the club could start to show signs it could be a tough outfit in the playoffs in late March.
The road swing began with back to back games in Prince George against a Cougars outfit that sat last in the Western Conference. The Cougars had dropped 17 straight until snapping that streak with a win at Kamloops the previous weekend, so Spokane was seeing a club that while struggling mightily, had tasted some success recently and were anxious to avenge 2 defeats to the Chiefs in Spokane earlier in the season. The Chiefs made the road trip without forwards Ethan McIndoe, who was hurt against Kelowna the previous home stand, and Erik Atchison, who was still recovering from a hand injury. With just one extra skater on board, it was literally all hands on deck for Spokane as they started the road trip Tuesday in Prince George.
Spokane got off to a good start as Jake McGrew got the Chiefs on the board 8:27 into the game to make it 1-0 Spokane. The Chiefs held that lead through a scoreless second period as Spokane failed to score on 3 power play chances. Prince George would take advantage of staying close as they would knot the game 3:47 into the third on a wrap around goal from Jackson Leppard. The Cougars followed that up with a power play tally just under 8 minutes into the period to take a lead on Spokane for the first time this season at 2-1. The Chiefs had looked pretty lifeless offensively after their first goal until Egor Arbuzov pulled the Chiefs even at 2 with a one timer at 11:38 of the third. Spokane appeared to complete the comeback for a victory with Filip Kral finished off a Riley Woods feed on the rush at 16:36 to make it 3-2 Chiefs. Prince George had other ideas though as after pulling their goalie in the final 2 minutes, the Cougars scored on a bounce off the end wall with 1:13 left to tie the game at 3 and force overtime.
In the OT, neither team got a serious scoring chance until the Chiefs Eli Zummack was tripped with the puck at mid-ice with just over a minute left in the extra frame. Ty Smith picked up the loose puck on the delayed penalty and found an open Jaret Anderson-Dolan on the left wing. Anderson-Dolan then ended the contest with a shot to the far post with 1:02 left to give the Chiefs their 3rd straight win over PG at 4-3. It was a game in which Spokane didn't earn the two points with their relatively sloppy performance, but the team wasn't going to argue and give them back either. The win enabled the Chiefs to move past idle Tri City and into 3rd place by their lonesome with 10 games left in the regular season. Zummack picked up an assist on the game winner to extend his scoring streak to 14 straight as the Chiefs hoped for the sweep the next night.
There was no question Spokane escaped with two points the night before and they had to play a lottt better the next night if they hoped to get a sweep of the two game set with the Cougars. The Chiefs showed they would be a different outfit from the opening face-off as Luke Toporowski scored just 18 seconds into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Bobby Russell then added to the lead with his 5th of the season midway through the period to make it 2-0 Chiefs. Connor Gabruch then extended the margin to 3 with a goal off the end wall and bouncing off PG goalie Taylor Gauthier's skate and in the net late in the first to put Spokane up 3-0. Nolan Reid then wrapped up a 4 goal first with his first short handed goal of his career in the final seconds of the period to give the Chiefs a commanding 4-0 lead after one.
Prince George would score on a 5 on 3 power play to start the second to make it 4-1, but Spokane responded right back with a Jaret Anderson-Dolan power play goal less than 2 minutes later to go back up 5-1 after two periods. Anderson-Dolan then scored his second power play of the night early in the third to make it 6-1. That goal capped a career high 5 point night for the Chiefs co-captain, matching his effort last February against Tri City. Luc Smith then wrapped a 3 point night of his own with his 27th of the year in the final minute to cap off a decisive 7-1 victory. Six different Chiefs scored multiple points as the win clinched a playoff berth for Spokane. The victory also proved to be doubly sweet as Tri City lost in Kamloops, pushing the Chiefs 4 points up on the Americans for third in the U.S. with just 9 games to play. Spokane knew though with back to back games at Portland and Tri City looming on the upcoming weekend, the team could ill afford to sit back on their laurels.
The team was also 7 points back of Portland for second and home ice advantage and while it was a long shot, the Chiefs knew they had to win in regulation in Portland to give themselves a chance. The last time they had played in the Rose City, Spokane rallied from a 2 goal third period deficit to force overtime, only to lose in a shootout. The Chiefs were looking to even the season series with the Hawks with a win as well, as no doubt a win on the Hawks home ice would be something to build on if the two teams were to meet 3 weeks later in the playoffs. Spokane came out ready to play as they physically matched Portland in the early going. The Chiefs would take the early lead when Luke Toporowski's pass went off Jake McGrew's skate and in the net on the power play just over 6 minutes into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead after one. Goalie Bailey Brkin turned aside all 18 Portland shots in the first to keep the Chiefs ahead on the scoreboard.
The second period would see Spokane extend the lead to 2-0 midway through the stanza when Toporowski scored on a wrap around after a Winterhawks turnover behind their net. Riley Woods would make it 3-0 Chiefs with his team leading 29th of the year with 3 minutes left in the period to give Spokane a nice cushion heading to the third. Jaret Anderson-Dolan would then score his 4th goal in 3 games 1:24 into the third to put the Chiefs in control at 4-0. Portland would break Brkin's shutout bid 2:25 into the period to cut it to 4-1, but Eli Zummack would extend his season high points scoring streak to 16 games with a power play goal midway through the third to put Spokane up 5-1. Brkin would do the rest, turning aside 19 of 21 shots in the third, as Portland capped the scoring with a power play goal with just over a minute left. Brkin would finish the night with a career high 50 saves, and the Chiefs with their season high 4th straight win with the 5-2 victory. The win brought Spokane within 5 points of Portland with 8 to play and more importantly, pushed the Chiefs 6 points up on Tri City for 3rd place in the division after the Americans lost in Everett in the last minute.
Spokane then headed to Tri to try to wrap up an unbeaten 4 game road trip as they faced the Americans for the 10th time this season. While the Chiefs had won 3 of 5 at home against the Ams, Spokane was a woeful 0-4 on Tri City's home ice. After getting outscored 15-3 in the first 3 defeats in Tri, Spokane had lost the last outing 7-5. The Chiefs fell down 5-0 early in the second before rallying within 6-5 with 5 minutes left in the third. The club would definitely need a much better start heading into Saturday's match-up. The team would get it as Noah King scored just over 3.5 minutes in to lift Spokane to an early 1-0 lead. Adam Beckman's power play goal at the 6 minute mark would make it 2-0 Chiefs after one. The Americans answered right back though as they scored 2 goals 1:17 apart early in the second to even the game at two heading into the third.
The two clubs went back and forth through half of the third period, but the Chiefs broke the deadlock when Nolan Reid scored off the rush at 13:23 to put Spokane back on top at 3-2. Michael King then scored a huge goal 10 seconds later, his third of the year against the Americans, to make it 4-2 heading down the stretch. Tri City got a power play in the final two minutes and pulled their goalie for a 6 on 4 advantage. Riley Sawchuk scored with 1:17 remaining to cut the margin to 4-3. After pulling their goalie again in the final minute, the Chiefs appeared to dodge a tie game as they got the puck away from the net in the final 10 seconds. Spokane failed to clear the puck or wrap it up and the puck found its' way to Kyle Olson net front with just over a second left as the Americans sent the game to overtime tied at 4. It was an epic meltdown by the Chiefs in the final minute and a half, and it sure felt like Tri City was going to pull out yet another win over Spokane.
In the overtime though, the Chiefs Luc Smith got the puck to Jaret Anderson-Dolan on the right wing. Anderson-Dolan took it to the right circle and snapped home his second game winner in overtime on the road trip as the Chiefs picked up their first road win in Kennewick 5-4. The win was the team's season high 5th in a row, and put Spokane 7 points up on Tri City with 7 games to play. The Chiefs also remained 5 points back of Portland for second after the Winterhawks won in overtime in Kelowna. The tests for Spokane continue this week as they return home for a three game home stand. The Chiefs will host the top 2 teams in the West as Everett and Vancouver visit Tuesday and Friday, while the 2nd place club in the B.C. Division, Victoria will close out the week at the Arena on Saturday. I'll have the call for all three games on 103.5 the Game starting with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm and the puck drops at 7:05 pm. With just 2 weeks and 7 games left in the season, it's time for the club to continue to elevate their game. The team should get forward Ethan McIndoe back in the lineup this week, so Spokane will be coming with a full lineup, which should make this week's contests fun to watch. We hope to see you at the rink!