Since the trade deadline the Chiefs had been one of the hottest teams in the Western Hockey League, going 16-2-2 in their last 20 games. Spokane had moved up to third in the U.S. Division and had clinched a playoff spot and were taking dead aim at second place Portland in the division heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. The Chiefs had moved as close as two points and were 4 back going into the next to last week of the campaign. Spokane had a challenging schedule ahead of them though, as they faced 4 games in 5 nights in each of the last two weeks. The Chiefs would begin this past week wrapping up a 6 game road trip as they visited Victoria for back to back games before heading to Seattle to end the road swing. Spokane had started the road trip with wins at Everett, Tri City and Kelowna, three of the toughest buildings in the league to pick up a victory. Things would not get any easier for the Chiefs as they began the week at Victoria, who had the second best home record in the West.
The Royals were coming off a 7-3 win at Prince George and they picked right where they left off as they scored on 2 of their first three shots in the first 6:54 of the game to take a 2-0 lead. The Chiefs rebounded later in the period, out shooting Victoria 10-5, but Spokane hit 3 posts in the frame to still be down by two heading into the second. Hudson Elynuik would get the Chiefs on the board with his 4th goal in the last 2 games midway through the second to cut the deficit to 2-1. Victoria would go back up by two on a goal off a 4 on 4 late in the period to make it 3-1, but Spokane would respond as Kailer Yamamoto found Jaret Anderson-Dolan for his team leading 36th goal of the season with just 20 seconds left in the second to cut the margin to 3-2 after two. Yamamoto would then tie the contest with his 20th of the season 4:22 into the third period to bring the Chiefs back to 3-3. Just when it looked as if Spokane would be able to come back for their 6th straight win, Victoria would score on a soft goal from the blue line just 24 seconds after Yamamoto's tally to re-take the lead at 4-3.
That goal would launch a 4 goal outburst for Victoria, as they would add a power play, empty net, and rebound goal over the final half of the period to run away to a 7-3 victory. It was the Chiefs first loss in regulation since losing at home to Everett on February 20th, and dropped Spokane 6 points back of Portland for second place in the division after the Winterhawks won in Prince George Tuesday. The Chiefs out shot the Royals 31-23 in the contest, so to give up 7 goals on just 23 shots was disappointing to say the least. Special teams also struggled as the power play was 0-4 while the penalty kill was just 3-5 in game one between the two. The Chiefs knew they were going to have to improve on both if they hoped to split the two game set and end up evening the season series between the two clubs. Another thing that would help is not falling behind 2-0 in the first period. Spokane would accomplish that mission as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Luke Toporowski goal 7:58 into the first period. That lead would hold until late in the second when the Royals Tyler Soy scored a power play goal to tie the game at one after two periods.
The Chiefs would jump back out in front 7:58 into the third period when Kailer Yamamoto scored on the power play. Eli Zummack would give Spokane a two goal lead with his 13th of the year at 10:05 of the frame, but the Royals would get right back in the game on a Soy short handed goal at 16:02 to draw back within 3-2. Victoria would pull their goalie in the final minute and a half, but the Chiefs would get Zummack's second goal of the contest with just 1:09 remaining to go up 4-2. Hudson Elynuik would close out the scoring with another empty netter in the final minute as he and Zummack would put up 3 point nights in a 5-2 victory. The win kept the Chiefs 6 points behind Portland in the U.S. Division and pulled Spokane 10 points ahead of 4th place Tri City. The team was now 4-1 on their 6 game road trip as they would head to Seattle to finish up the swing on Friday night. Spokane and Seattle had split 6 previous meetings, with Spokane coming away with a 5-1 victory at Seattle in the two clubs last match-up in late February.
The Chiefs would go with back up goalie Donovan Buskey in the finale of the road trip. Buskey's last start had resulted in a win at Everett, which started the road odyssey the end of February. Spokane jumped out to a 1-0 just over two minutes into the game on Filip Kral's 8th goal of the season, but a power play goal from Seattle would even the contest at one after the first period. The Chiefs came out and took a 2-1 lead just over two minutes into the second on a Riley Woods power play goal on a tip of a Kral shot, but back came the Thunderbirds as Zach Andrusiak scored his second of the game after a Spokane turnover to send the game to the third tied 2-2. Seattle's Austin Strand would be a one man show in the third, as he scored two goals to snap the deadlock and give the T-Birds a 4-2 victory. Spokane out shot Seattle 27-22 in the game, but special teams decided this one. Spokane was 1-3 on the power play, but 0-2 on the penalty kill. Seattle now leads the season series 4-3 and would clinch a playoff berth with the win.
Spokane finished 4-2 on the road swing, and now has just 2 games left on the road. The Chiefs returned home for the first time in 2 weeks the following night as they hosted the Vancouver Giants in Vancouver's only visit to the Spokane Arena this season. Spokane had won the last meeting in Vancouver the end of the January when they shut out the Giants 5-0. Vancouver lost 6-2 in Tri Cities the night before, so it was guaranteed neither team was going to be in good humor when they met Saturday. The Chiefs were still 6 points back of Portland for second in the division with just 5 games left, so the team knew they had to win Saturday to have any chance of making a run at the Winterhawks.
It was Kailer Yamamoto bobblehead night and a festive sell out crowd was on hand to greet the boys back home. Spokane came out flying, but missed several quality goal scoring chances early in the first as the game was scoreless midway through one. The Chiefs Jake McGrew would get Spokane on the board with a great drive to the net and scored on a back hander 11:43 in to make it 1-0. Vancouver would counter with a goal off a 2 on 1 rush just 33 seconds later to even the game at one. Spokane would jump right back into the lead on Jaret Anderson-Dolan's power play goal at 16:28 to give the Chiefs a 2-1 advantage after the first. The Giants would come back and even things at 2 on a Tyler Benson tip in midway through the second, but Spokane re-gained the lead on Hudson Elynuik's 30th of the season at 15:11 to carry a 3-2 lead into the third.
Spokane would get a 5 minute power play early in the third, but it came at a price as the team lost forward Ethan McIndoe to a leg injury after taking a knee. The Chiefs would convert once on the at will power play as Riley Woods tipped Elynuik's shot in at 4:58 to put Spokane up 4-2. Vancouver responded right back with a power play goal at 11:31 to cut the margin to 4-3, but Woods would score his second of the period just 1:12 later to give the Chiefs a 5-3 lead. Spokane would take back to back penalties late in the game on questionable calls, and the penalty kill, which came into the game 6th in the league, failed to hold the Giants off the scoreboard as Vancouver scored 2 goals 3:13 apart to tie the game at five and send the contest to overtime. Spokane put Vancouver back on the power play just 30 seconds into OT, but goalie Dawson Weatherill made a couple of huge saves to keep the game tied. The Chiefs got a power play opportunity in the final half minute of overtime, but failed to convert as the team went to a shootout for the third time this season.
Spokane had gone 0 and 2 in their previous shootouts with losses to Kamloops and Tri City, and the Giants would leave the Chiefs 0 and 3 as Spokane failed to score in all 3 rounds. Vancouver got one goal past Weatherill and the Chiefs saw their 10 game and 6 year winning streak against the Giants come to a halt as Vancouver secured a come from behind 6-5 shootout victory. There was no question the Chiefs looked like a tired hockey team down the stretch in the third, as their 6th game in 9 nights and 4th in 5 caught up to them. Having to kill off 4 penalties in the third and overtime certainly didn't help as having the same guys on the ice constantly took its' toll. The loss was costly too, not just with the McIndoe injury, but with Portland's loss to Tri City, Spokane lost out on a valuable point to try to catch the Winterhawks for second in the division.
The Chiefs now head into the final week of the season with another 4 games in 5 nights stretch against the U.S. Division. Spokane has fared worst against teams in their own division...by far. The Chiefs are just 15-16-2-1 against division rivals, while going 11-5-0-2 against the B.C., 7-2-1 against the Central and a perfect 6-0 against the East. Just looking at that, I have a hard time believing the Chiefs are going to make it into second in the division. The greater worry is Tri City who's within striking distance of Spokane and has two meetings with the Chiefs this week. Hopefully the team will not be without McIndoe for very long and that Zach Fisher is able to get back this week to get warmed up for the playoffs. Spokane will not get far in the playoffs without either one of them, and there's no question the team is going to need some of the third and fourth line guys to give more quality minutes in the near future. The Chiefs will begin the final week of the regular season hosting Seattle Wednesday and Tri City Friday before ending the year on the road at Tri City Saturday and Portland Sunday. No doubt a tough stretch and a great preparation for the playoffs for the club. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm and the puck drops at 7:05 pm Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday's game from Portland will have the pre-game at 4:30 pm and puck drop at 5:05 pm. Let's hope the team finishes strong and we hope to see you at the rink!