SPOKANE, Wash. — Three weeks ago it appeared the Chiefs were on their way to a great comeback from a disappointing season as they had launched themselves from 10th and last place in the Western Conference to within 2 points of 6th place Vancouver. Spokane then hit a rough patch as they dropped 5 in a row to end March and found themselves 4 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot behind Prince George. The Chiefs have once again suffered the injury bug as they have had 4 to 5 players on the shelf over the last two weeks, and then lost some players to suspension due to major penalties suffered in the losing streak. Spokane's road woes have also played a big factor as the team started a season-long 6 game road trip with 3 straight losses, including a discouraging 4-0 shutout defeat at Tri-City in their last game. Prince George won two in a row over the weekend to open their 4 point lead on Spokane with just 7 games left in the Chiefs season.
The schedule was not about to get any easier for the Chiefs either, as they headed to British Columbia to finish their 6 game road swing with 3 games in 3 night stretch at Kamloops and Vancouver. First up was Friday's contest at division-leading Kamloops. The Blazers have wrapped up the B.C. Division but are in a dogfight to take the top spot in the conference from U.S. Division leader Everett. Kamloops was just 2 points back of Everett for the top spot and were coming off a dominating 9-2 win over Prince George Wednesday. The Blazers jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back in their rout of the Cougars. Spokane had been dominated by Kamloops in the two teams' meetings this year, as the Blazers had outscored Spokane 13-2 in two decisive victories. In the last match-up, Kamloops scored a 7-2 win on home ice just a month earlier. After the Chief's performance in their first 3 games on the road trip, the outlook was not a bright one heading into Friday.
The Chiefs did get good news off the ice, as defensemen Graham Sward and Logan Cunningham, and forward Erik Atchison were back in the lineup as they came off the injured list. The team seemed to get a jolt on the ice as Spokane took their first lead over the Blazers this season with a Yannick Proske goal from Atchison just over 5 minutes in to go up 1-0. Former Blazer Nick McCarry then scored on a nice backhand midway through the period to put the Chiefs up 2-0. Sward would score 19 seconds into the Chiefs first power play and suddenly Spokane would take a 3-0 lead and stun the hometown Blazer crowd. Kamloops came back and scored in the final 3 minutes of the period to cut the deficit to 3-1 after one.
In the second, defenseman Timafey Kovgoreniya scored on a blast from the left wing just over 6 minutes in to put Spokane back up by three at 4-1. The Chiefs kept it a three-goal game until the final seconds of the period, when Ty Cheveldayoff picked up his 2nd assist of the period with a nice net-front pass to Blake Swetlikoff on the power play. With just 12 seconds left, the puck hit off Swetlikoff's skate and into the net to give Spokane a 5-1 lead heading into the third. In the final period, the Blazers came out and scored two goals in the first 6.5 minutes to cut the deficit to 5-3. The Chiefs would score their third power-play tally of the game when Atchison scored 7 seconds into the man advantage at 7:40 to put Spokane back up by three at 6-3. It turned out to be the game-winner, as Kamloops scored two goals less than 2 minutes apart midway through the period to make it a 6-5 game. The Chiefs did just enough down the stretch to keep the Blazers from getting the equalizer and Spokane scored their first win over a division leader this year with a 6-5 victory.
The win was huge for Spokane as the Chiefs drew within 2 points of 8th place Prince George in the West after the Cougars lost 8-2 at Kelowna. The Chiefs now had a chance to pull even or pass PG in the standings as they headed to Vancouver for the first of back-to-back games with the Giants beginning on Saturday. Spokane had split 2 meetings with Van in Spokane earlier in the season, losing 3-1 in November before rebounding with a 5-2 victory on March 9th. That victory had pulled the Chiefs within 2 points of 6th place Vancouver at the time, but Spokane was now 5 back heading into the 2 game series in Langley. Spokane was facing a Giants team that had dropped 4 in a row and were tied with Victoria for 6th in the West.
The Giants came out in the first period like a desperate team ready to end their losing streak as they were all over the Chiefs in the first period. Vancouver would come out and put up 20 shots in the first period despite giving up 3 power plays to the Chiefs. Spokane failed to convert any of the opportunities and Vancouver would breakthrough midway in the period on a Jaden Lipinski goal to go up 1-0. Lipinski would strike again just 2:01 later and the Giants would take a 2-0 lead into the second period. The Chiefs were in real danger of getting blown out but goalie Mason Beaupit would build off his 18 save effort in the first to shut down the Giants offensively the rest of the game. Spokane would come out in the second and cut the deficit in half when Chase Bertholet would score on a rush net-front at 6:45 of the period to make it 2-1 Vancouver. The Chiefs would then pull even on a Ty Cheveldayoff shot from the right side at 17:48 to even the game at 2-2 after 40 minutes.
Spokane had gone 0-4 on the power play through two periods but would change that in the third on their 5th attempt. Nick McCarry, who had hit 3 posts earlier in the game, took the puck through the Giants defense and scored his 12th as a Chief 4:03 into the third to give Spokane their first lead at 3-2. Cheveldayoff would give the Chiefs a huge insurance goal with his second of the game at 17:05 to put Spokane ahead 4-2. Graham Sward would then seal the win with an empty netter with 19 seconds left to cap off a come from behind 5-2 victory. The Chiefs put up 45 shots and Beaupit earned his second straight win with a 35 save performance. The win was huge as the Chiefs pulled even with Prince George for the 8th and final playoff spot with 47 points and were now within just 3 points of Vancouver and Victoria for 6th and 7th.
Spokane was hoping to finish off their season-long 6 game road trip with their 3rd straight win and second in a row over Vancouver as the two teams matched up the following afternoon. The Chiefs welcomed back Saige Weinstein from his 3 game suspension as the team hoped to finish off the three games in three nights on a high note. The team turned to Beaupit for the third straight night in net and the Chiefs would get out to a quick lead when Nick McCarry finished off an odd-man rush on the power play 6:46 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Captain Bear Hughes would make it 2-0 with his team-leading 23rd of the season late in the first as Spokane took a two-goal advantage into the second period.
The Chiefs had a chance to extend the lead in the second as they got the only two power plays of the stanza. Vancouver would take advantage short-handed on Spokane's second man advantage with a short-handed goal late in the period to cut the Chiefs lead to 2-1 after the second period. In the third, Spokane would get another odd-man rush led by Cade Hayes and Chase Bertholet. Bertholet then found an open McCarry on the left side for the second time in the game as Spokane went back up by two goals at 7:34 of the third. Vancouver would pull their goalie with less than 4 minutes left in the game, but Beaupit was stellar in goal as he thwarted every Giants shot in the period and would finish with a 30 save performance. Erik Atchison would finish off the 4-1 victory with his 2nd goal in 3 games as the Chiefs completed the improbable 3 wins in 3 nights road trip.
Spokane moved into the 8th and final playoff spot in the West with the win and a Prince George overtime loss to Kamloops. The Chiefs are now just a point back of Vancouver and Victoria for the 6th and 7th spots in the West. Heading into the final 2 weeks of the regular season, there are 4 teams separated by just 2 points for the final 3 playoff spots in the conference. Spokane has two games in each of the last two weeks, so it is truly crunch time for the Chiefs as the team could finish anywhere from 6th, down to 9th and out of the playoffs. Spokane will finish their schedule with the U.S. Division this week as they host division-leading Everett in the Chiefs home finale on Wednesday and then travel to Seattle on Saturday. I'll have the call for Wednesday's game on 103.5 FM the Game with the pre-game at 6:30 pm and the puck drop at 7:05 pm. Saturday's game from Seattle will be on 101 Key FM as the Indians game will be on 103.5 that night. I'll have the pre-game at 5:30 pm and the puck drop at 6:05 pm.
As I'm sure you're wondering, yes I will be bouncing between the Indians and Chiefs over the next few weeks. I'll be doing the Indians season opener on Friday before heading to Seattle with the Chiefs Saturday. It's going to be a busy time during April, but let's hope the Chiefs keep up the good work and play themselves into a playoff series with Everett, Kamloops or Portland here in the next 3 weeks. More performances like this past weekend will certainly help that, so we hope to see you at the rink!