It's a bit unusual this late in the season to have practically an entire week without a game, but it sure felt that way for the Chiefs this week. After winning at Everett Sunday to kick off a 6 game road trip, Spokane returned home to gather themselves for 4 days before heading out for the final 5 games of the trek beginning in Tri City on Friday. The Chiefs are looking at playing 6 games over the next 9 days, so you just hoped the boys got their rest this week. It's a gauntlet of games for the team as well. First up is arch rival Tri City Friday, followed by an all night bus ride to B.C. Division leading Kelowna on Saturday. After two days off Sunday and Monday, the Chiefs will get back to back games at Victoria, before heading to Seattle for a game Friday and then returning home the following Saturday at home against Vancouver. Then just like that, it will be the final week of the regular season after that. Safe to say, if you blink, it will be over. The importance of the last 10 games of the season can not be over stated. The Chiefs need to finish this stretch strong to make a good run in the playoffs. That being said, things had to start well this weekend with back to back games with Tri City and Kelowna.
Spokane and Tri City have been rivals since the Americans came in the league one year after the Chiefs began. It always seems these two clubs are close in the standings year after year and this season is no different. Coming into Friday's game, Spokane led Tri City by just 5 points for third place in the U.S. Division. In the 9 previous games between the two this year, five of the games went into overtime or a shootout. The last two meetings had been decisive Spokane wins, and after an impressive win in Everett Sunday, and a Tri City home blowout loss to Portland in their last game, the Chiefs had to feel good about their match-up Friday in Kennewick. Spokane would start well in the game too, as Ethan McIndoe scored on the power play 9:03 in to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead. Just 36 seconds later, Dalton Hamaliuk scored from the blue line to make it 2-0 Spokane and it looked like a third straight easy win was in the cards.
But it's why you play the games and Tri City would answer right back with two goals of their own over the final 8 minutes of the period to tie the game at two after the first. The Americans would come out and score 5 minutes into the second period to take the lead at 3-2 and things were looking a bit bleak for the Chiefs at that point. Spokane would get three power play chances in the second to even the game and the third time proved to be the charm as Filip Kral's goal at 17:24 would tie the contest at 3 heading into the third period. Tri would get a goal just 50 seconds into the third to re-take the lead at 4-3, but Nolan Reid's goal at 5:35 would bring the Chiefs back even at 4-4 as the two teams headed to, yup, you guessed it....overtime. Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill would make an amazing save on Tri City's Dylan Coughlin midway through overtime to keep the game tied. The Chiefs Jaret Anderson-Dolan would settle things with a steal at center ice and he would snap a shot through the pads of Americans goalie Patrick Dea with 1:09 left in overtime to give Spokane a come from behind 5-4 victory. The win was Spokane's 4th in overtime in 6 wins against the Ams and pulled the Chiefs within 2 points of second place Portland in the U.S. Division after the Winterhawks lost to Seattle in a shootout Friday.
The win also matched the Chiefs longest winning streak of the season at four as the team hoped to surpass that with a win at Kelowna the next night. The Rockets led the B.C. Division coming into Saturday, but had dropped three straight on the road, including a 4-2 loss at Everett Friday. Spokane had lost 2 of 3 this season to Kelowna including a 7-4 decision on trade deadline day on January 10th. Since that game though, the Chiefs had gone 15-2-2, with 3 of the 4 losses to Everett, while the other was in OT to Tri the end of January. Spokane was hoping to go 3-0 on the road trip against the team with the best home record in the West in the Rockets, who were an impressive 23-6-0-2 on home ice this season. Kelowna was playing their 4th game in 5 nights, so the Chiefs were hoping to get out to a quick start and wear down the Rockets as the game went along.
Spokane got the quick start as Hudson Elynuik scored off the rush just 7:17 into the game to give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after one. Spokane would fail to score on 3 power play chances in the third, including a 1:23 five on three chance as it remained a one goal contest. Kelowna would take advantage as they would score on their second power play of the period in the final minute of the second to tie the game at 1-1 after two. Spokane would regain the lead on Ty Smith's 14th goal of the year 5:01 into the third period to go up 2-1. The Rockets would counter in the back and forth affair as Kole Lind scored at 13:41 to make it 2-2 and it looked like the two teams were heading to overtime for the first time in 4 meetings. The Chiefs would avoid extra time though, as Elynuik scored on a rebound of a Jake McGrew shot with just 1:14 left to give Spokane a 3-2 lead. Elynuik would finish off his second career hat trick and a 4 point night with an empty net goal in the final seconds to cap off the Chiefs third straight road win on the trip with a 4-2 victory.
The Chiefs remained 2 points back of second place Portland heading into the final 2 weeks of the regular season. It's looking more and more like the Chiefs will be facing the Winterhawks in the first round of the playoffs as the two teams will fight for home ice advantage in their match up. The two teams meet in the regular season finale March 18, so that game may determine who gets home ice in their series. For now though, Spokane will head into the next to last week of the season with 4 games in 5 nights starting with back to back games Tuesday and Wednesday in Victoria. The Chiefs will finish the road swing Friday in Seattle before returning home to open their final home stand with Vancouver Saturday. I'll have the call on 94.1 FM the Bear on Tuesday from Victoria with Wednesday's game on 1510 KGA. The games Friday and Saturday will be on 1510 KGA as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday's games will start at 7:05 pm with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm. Friday's game from Seattle will have the pre-game at 7 pm and the puck drop at 7:35 pm. Let's hope the boys keep it going and we hope to see you at the rink!