SPOKANE, Wash. — After dropping game 2 at home to Portland Saturday, the Chiefs then headed out on the road to try and get the series lead back on the Winterhawks home ice. Portland had gained the split they wanted in Spokane, so the Chiefs were hoping to return the favor and regain the home ice advantage they had taken away from Portland in the final weekend of the regular season. Spokane had lost 2 of 3 to the Winterhawks on their home ice this season, but had won the last meeting on March 1st 5-2. The Chiefs had finished the regular season winning 6 of their last 7 on the road as well, so the team was certainly hoping to continue that trend Tuesday in game 3. Spokane also got some good news off the ice, as both defenseman Nolan Reid and forward Luke Toporowski returned to the lineup after missing game two due to injury and illness, respectively.
All of the positive news though gave way to harsh reality early in the first as Portland scored just 1:39 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. The Winterhawks then made it 2-0 on a Joachim Blichfeld goal at 6:57 and it looked like it was going to be a long night for Spokane. The Chiefs worked their way back into the game late in the first though, as Luke Toporowski scored his first of the playoffs at 16:37 to cut the lead to 2-1 after the first period. That goal got the Chiefs momentum and it carried over to the second as Luc Smith converted on Spokane's only power play of the night at 5:03 of the second period to tie the contest at 2-2. Ethan McIndoe then finished off a rush just 39 seconds later to give the Chiefs their first lead of the game at 3-2. Portland would respond with a goal off Reid net front 4.5 minutes later to tie the game at 3 heading into the third period.
Portland would regain the lead with a tip in that sailed high in the air over Bailey Brkin and in the net 1:44 into the third period to make it a 4-3 game. The Chiefs responded again midway through the period as Jack Finley scored his first career playoff goal on an Adam Beckman feed at 7:48 to knot the game at 4 and send it to overtime. In the OT, the Chiefs had a shot from Luc Smith ring off the post and a Nolan Reid shot miss the open net. Spokane kept the pressure up and would break through when Riley Woods scored on a back hander at 9:33 to give the Chiefs a 5-4 victory and a 2-1 series lead. The win got the home ice back to Spokane and now the team was hoping to take a 3-1 lead with a victory the very next night in game 4. The Chiefs would have the same lineup on the ice as the Winterhawks got defenseman John Ludvig back from a two game suspension.
Spokane was looking for a much better start than they had in game 4, and they would get it as Ty Smith scored his first of the playoffs just 31 seconds into the game to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Portland would equalize with a goal midway through the first, and would then take the lead on a Josh Paterson rebound goal with 1:30 left in the period to give Portland a 2-1 lead after one. Paterson would strike for his second goal of the game, his second two goal performance of the series, at 7:46 of the second to put the Hawks up 3-1 after two. It was looking like the series would be heading back to Spokane tied at 2-2 at this point, but Spokane would come out on the offensive in the third.
Luke Toporowski would score on a rebound just 3:25 into the final period for his second goal in as many nights to cut the lead to 3-2. The Chiefs had several chances to tie in the third, but could not get on the board. In the final two minutes, Spokane pulled goalie Bailey Brkin and got the extra attacker on the ice. The move paid off as Nolan Reid kept a loose puck in the Portland zone and fed Riley Woods. Woods then found an open Eli Zummack between the circles, and Zummack scored his first of the playoffs with a minute left to tie the game at 3 and force overtime for the second straight game. Just over 3 minutes into OT, Portland took a delay of game penalty and put Spokane on the power play. Spokane took full advantage of their 3rd man advantage of the night as Adam Beckman scored on a great feed from Ethan McIndoe at 4:39 to give the Chiefs a 4-3 victory and a 3-1 series lead as the two teams headed back to Spokane for game 5 on Saturday.
The Chiefs had not won a series against Portland since a game 7 win in 2003, and now had the chance to move to the West semi finals for the first time since 2013 with a victory. Things didn't exactly start great for the Chiefs when goalie Bailey Brkin coughed up the puck while Spokane was on the power play and the loose puck went off Portland's Cody Glass and in the net for a shorthanded goal 4:04 into the game. This was Glass' first game in the playoffs after missing a month due to a knee injury, and the Winterhawks couldn't have drawn up a better script than get their best player on the score sheet in his first game back. Spokane bounced back on that power play though as Luke Toporowski scored for the third straight game with a one timer 48 seconds later to even the game at one. The Chiefs then killed off 2 Portland power plays, and right after the second kill, Toporowski came out of the penalty box and got a Nolan Reid pass and scored on a breakaway with 2:08 left in the first to give Spokane a 2-1 lead after one.
Neither team would score in the second as Spokane would kill off two more Portland power plays, including a 4 on 3 advantage late in the period. Brkin turned away 18 Winterhawks shots as the Chiefs took their 2-1 lead into the third. Spokane would get a huge insurance goal when Riley Woods stripped the puck off a Winterhawk defenseman and ripped home his third of the playoffs 1:28 into the period to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead. Woods then scored his second of the night at 3:13 to put Spokane up 4-1 and effectively put the game away. Brkin and the defense locked down Portland from there, as Brkin saved all 12 shots in the third and finished with a playoff career high 38 saves as Spokane moved on to the West semi finals with a 4-1 victory. The Chiefs washed away a lot of Portland ghosts with the 4-1 series win as Spokane won for just the 4th time in 12 tries in franchise history against the Winterhawks.
The joy of winning a series against an old nemesis then gave way to the realization the Chiefs would now face the U.S. Division and defending Western Conference champion Everett Silvertips in the next round. Everett made short work of Tri City in their first round series, as they won their series in 5 games and capped it off with a dominating 9-1 victory in game 5. Spokane didn't have a lot of success against the Tips this season, losing 6 of 8. The two clubs only met 2 times in the second half, the last time in early March when Everett won 3-1 in Spokane as the Silvertips scored 3 goals in the third to overcome a 1-0 Chiefs lead after two. It was also the only game Spokane faced Everett with their full lineup this year. That loss is also one of only 3 Spokane had in the month of March, and served as a good lesson for the Chiefs on what it would take to win in the playoffs.
Now comes the test as to whether Spokane has learned how to play the defensive style of hockey it will take to win against Everett. Brkin will have to continue to play well as he will have to match the play of the league's top goaltender in Everett's Dustin Wolf. Special teams will be key as well, as Spokane's top rated power play, which went 6-11 against Portland, will have to be just as effective against Everett's penalty kill, which ranked 2nd in the league this season. The season series was closely fought, with the only blowout coming in the first game on November 3rd when Everett won in the Spokane Arena 6-2. Since then, the games have been 1 or 2 goal games with two games going to overtime and one to a shootout. Spokane won 2 of those 3 extra session games, and coming off of 2 overtime wins in the playoffs, the Chiefs will feel confident if the games go extra.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and Spokane will get that opportunity over the next couple of weeks. Due to Everett's building hosting a show the second week of April, this series will be a 2-3-2 format. Everett will host games 1 and 2 on Saturday, April 6th and Sunday, April 7th. Spokane will then host games 3, 4, and 5 on Wednesday the 10th, Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th before the series heads back to Everett for games 6 and 7. Game one on Saturday will start at 7:05 pm, while Sunday's game will be a 4:05 pm.puck drop. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 KGA starting with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm Saturday and 3:30 pm on Sunday. Let's hope the Chiefs keep it going and we hope to see you at the rink!