It truly was a lost weekend for the Chiefs after their trip to Vancouver for games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Not only did Spokane fall behind 0-2 in the series, but had managed just 3 goals in two games while giving up 8. It was a far cry from the performance the team had put up in the first two rounds, when the Chiefs lost two games total. Now the club headed home to the Spokane Arena for games 3 and 4 as they hoped to climb back in the series against the West's top team. Spokane had split two games on home ice during the regular season against the Giants, having won the last meeting March 8th 4-1. The Chiefs were hoping to lean on that positive experience as they took on a Vancouver club that had one of the top winning percentages on the road in the WHL this season. Spokane was still without forward Luc Smith, who had suffered a leg injury in game one, as the two clubs met in a must win for the Chiefs in game three.
Spokane came out and played a solid first period as they out shot the Giants 11-4, but the Chiefs failed to find the net as it was scoreless after one. Spokane played even better in the second, and finally got rewarded when Eli Zummack scored on a rebound with 2:20 remaining in the period to lift the Chiefs to a 1-0 lead after two. Vancouver quickly answered in the third on a goal just 2:22 in to make it a 1-1 game. Spokane then got one of their few odd man rushes in the game and would convert when Riley Woods found Luke Toporowski net front at 10:51 to give the Chiefs a 2-1 advantage. It looked like that lead might hold up, but after taking a penalty with just over 4 minutes left, Vancouver scored a power play goal on a shot off the skate of Spokane defenseman Filip Kral at 17:01 to tie the game at two and force overtime.
It was a deflating goal for the Chiefs, and with their season pretty much on the line, I was curious to see how the club would respond in overtime. Vancouver got a turnover and put up a flurry of shots on goalie Bailey Brkin less than 5 minutes into OT. Somehow the puck missed the net in a wild sequence and the Chiefs stayed alive. Then with just under 9 minutes into overtime, Chiefs defenseman Bobby Russell went behind the net and fed the puck net front to a covered Jake McGrew. McGrew found the puck and slammed it in the net at 8:51 to give the Chiefs their first win of the series at 3-2, and narrow the series deficit to 2-1 heading into game 4 the next evening. Spokane put up 38 shots in the game, the most they had registered since game 3 of the first round against Portland. It was a huge win as the Chiefs now had a chance to even the best of 7 before the teams headed to Vancouver for game 5 on Friday.
Game 4 would see the Chiefs come out flying in the first period as they out shot the Giants 17-5 and tilted the ice in the Giants zone for most of the stanza. Spokane would be rewarded when Adam Beckman scored his 7th of the playoffs at 18:38 to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. Vancouver upped the pressure in the second, but Beckman scored his second of the night on a back hander midway through the period to put the Chiefs ahead 2-0 after two. Usually a 2 goal lead going into the final period has been a safe bet for Spokane over the last month and a half, but it sure hasn't been in the Vancouver series. The Chiefs coughed up a 2 goal lead in the third in game 2 in a 4-2 loss, and they would do so again on this night.
The Giants scored three goals in the first 10:04 of the third over a 5:38 span to erase the Chiefs lead a take a 3-2 advantage heading into the final half of the third. It seemed like game two was being relived all over again and Spokane would suffer another crushing loss. There's no question the Chiefs came out on the defensive to start the third and the Giants made them pay for their conservative play. After Vancouver took the lead though, Spokane got back on their game and would get back even when Riley Woods scored at 16:25 on a tough angle shot from the goal line to even the game at three and send the two teams to overtime for the second straight night.
The Chiefs came out and played well in the overtime, but couldn't get the quality shots on goal for the game winner. Vancouver then broke through the neutral zone and went on a 2 on 2 and the Giants Dawson Holt, who has scored 3 of his 5 goals against the Chiefs in the playoffs, fired home the game winner at 7:07 to cap a come from behind 4-3 overtime win for the Giants. Instead of being tied at 2-2 in the series, or even up 3-1, the failure to hold a pair of two goal leads in the third now had Spokane trailing the series 3-1 as the two teams headed to Vancouver for game 5 on Friday. The Chiefs now had zero room for error as they hoped to pick up their first win in Vancouver in 5 tries this season. Let;s just say the odds were not exactly in Spokane's favor heading into Friday.
The team was once again without Filip Kral or Luc Smith, placing the Chiefs in a real underdog position. Spokane didn't make things any easier in the first period as the special teams, which had been so good and a huge reason why the Chiefs were in the West finals, continued to disappoint against the Giants. After a pretty even first, Spokane went on the power play with a chance to take the lead. Instead. Vancouver's Bowen Byram stole the puck in the Chiefs offensive zone, went the length of the ice, and fired home a shorthanded goal through goalie Bailey Brkin to give the Giants a 1-0 lead late in the first. The Giants then went on the power play a minute and a half later and would score on the man advantage for the 5th straight game to take a commanding 2-0 lead after one. It was a huge hole to try to dig out of after 20 minutes, and while the Chiefs outshot Vancouver in the second period, the team couldn't make any headway as the two clubs failed to score in the middle 20.
That left Spokane just 20 minutes to get two on the board or see their season end. The Chiefs needed a goal early...and they would get it, on of all things, the power play. For the first time in the series, Spokane scored on the man advantage as Jaret Anderson-Dolan tallied 4:22 into the third to cut the margin to 2-1. As fast as the Chiefs got back in the game though, they let it slip away as Vancouver scored just 11 seconds later after the face off to go back up by two at 3-1. That goal served as the back breaker for Spokane in the game, the series, and the season. The Chiefs would get a goal from Ethan McIndoe on a tip with the extra skater on at 18:13, but Spokane would draw no closer as Vancouver eliminated the Chiefs in 5 games with a 3-2 victory.
Spokane played with the desperation needed in the third, but unfortunately, the two goal deficit in the first was too much to overcome. The Chiefs couldn't do in the third what Vancouver had done to them in games 2 and 4, and that proved to by the difference in the series. The special teams that had carried Spokane to the West finals, failed them against Vancouver, as the Giants put up 5 power play goals to the Chiefs one. There's no question the injuries to Luc Smith and Filip Kral really hurt the Chiefs on those special teams, not to mention several of the Chiefs top players were playing through major injuries suffered in the previous two playoff wins against Portland and Everett. So the team will now look to next year, and there's some major pieces coming back to Spokane to helpfully spur another run deep into the Western Hockey League playoffs. Next week, I'll close out the season with a look back at 2018-19 and a look ahead for the Chiefs in 2019-2020. Until then, enjoy the playoffs!