Usually when a team has to only play two games in a week, it works out well. The rest a club gets from not having to play three or four games is usually beneficial and leads to good results on the ice. The Chiefs were hoping that having only two games to play this weekend would pay off as they find themselves on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs in the Western Conference. The bad news for Spokane this week came off the ice, as the team they are chasing for that final playoff berth, the Portland Winterhawks, had ripped off 5 straight wins, and had moved from one point ahead of Spokane to 9 points up. The Chiefs had only 22 games left in the season, and now were in a position where they have to rip off 5 or 6 wins in a row to have a shot at challenging Portland for the final playoff spot.
The schedule wasn't going to be easy either, as the Chiefs hosted the #2 team in the East, the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday, to be followed by the 2nd place team in the B.C. Division, the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday. The Chiefs also got news on Friday that forward Hudson Elyniuk was going to be unable to play after aggravating an injury in practice all week. Spokane would face a Tigers team on Friday that had won 5 straight, including a home and home sweep of Kootenay this past week. The Chiefs were drilled in the two teams last meeting last year in Medicine Hat as the Tigers rolled to a 6-2 win. It looked like it would be more of the same on Friday, as the Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one. Spokane was out shot 13-8 in the period despite getting 3 power play chances, including a 1:51 of a 5 on 3 opportunity the Chiefs failed to capitalize.
As bleak as it looked after the first, the Chiefs turned the game around in the second. Hayden Ostir would score his 5th of the season just under 2.5 minutes into the period to cut the lead in half at 2-1. Spokane would then convert their 4th power play chance of the night when Jaret Anderson-Dolan scored his 25th of the year on a nifty Riley Woods pass to tie the game at two at 8:57 of the second. The Chiefs would convert their next power play opportunity as well, as once again, Anderson-Dolan did the honors on a Keanu Yamamoto feed at 12:34 to give Spokane a 3-2 lead after two. Medicine Hat would come back and tie the game in the first 2:14 of the third period to make it a 3-3 game. The Chiefs got one more power play chance in the third, and they made the most of it as Anderson-Dolan notched his 3rd hat trick of the season with the eventual game winner at 11:52 to give Spokane a 4-3 lead. Yamamoto sealed the win with an empty net goal with 1:15 left as the Chiefs knocked off one of the top teams in the league with a 5-3 victory. The win also kept Spokane 9 points back of Portland in the standings after the Hawks beat division leading Everett.
So after a great start to the weekend, the Chiefs welcomed Kamloops to the Arena on Saturday night hoping to make it two in a row. The Blazers were coming off a shootout loss the night before in Seattle, dropping a 3-2 nine round shootout to the Thunderbirds. Kamloops had one of the top goalies in the league in Connor Ingram, so the Chiefs knew goals would be a premium. Spokane had won the last meeting with the Blazers in Kamloops in November, but had dropped 2 of 3 with Kamloops in the season series. The Blazers took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period when Lane Bauer's shot hit Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith's skate in the crease and went in. Spokane answered when Ethan McIndoe scored a power play goal at 15:42 to even the game at one. The Chiefs then seized the lead when Ingram came out of the crease and had the puck deflected by Anderson-Dolan to the right wing. Anderson-Dolan picked up the loose puck, wheeled and fired it in the wide open net with 29 seconds left in the period to give Spokane a 2-1 lead after the first.
Kamloops came right back and scored in the opening minute of the second period off a face-off to tie the game at two. It would remain that way through the rest of the period as the Chiefs were limited to 5 shots in the second. In the third, the two clubs had chances, and Spokane had the best of them. Ingram robbed Anderson-Dolan on a net front opportunity, and Kailer Yamamoto was turned away twice, once on a breakaway and another on a penalty shot with 4 minutes left. The Blazers would get the break of the game though when Garrett Pilon scored off a Chiefs skate net front midway through the third to put home the eventual game winner in a 3-2 Kamloops victory. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Spokane as the Chiefs deserved a better fate on this night, but found out first hand why Ingram is one of the top goalies in junior hockey. The loss became even more difficult when Portland beat Seattle in a shootout to go 11 points up on Spokane in the standings.
Now the Chiefs enter a must win week as they play a home and home series with Portland on Wednesday and Friday this week. I don't like using must win with a month and a half left in the season, but if Spokane falls 13 or 15 back this week, they're done. Not officially eliminated mind you, but done as far as catching the last team to hold a playoff spot. It'll be play for next year, and just about everybody knows it. The Chiefs will finish the week with a home game against Tri City before embarking on an extremelyyyy difficult 4 game road trip to Prince George, Kelowna and Tri City. I'll have the call for the Portland home and home series on 1510 KGA, as the Chiefs host the Winterhawks Wednesday before heading to the Rose City on Friday. Pre-game shows will at 6:30pm with the puck drops at 7:05pm. Saturday's game at the Spokane Arena with Tri City will be on 790 KJRB with the times the same. It's a huugggge week for Spokane, and the team will need at least 5 of the 6 points up for grabs to feel good about their chances. We hope to see you at the rink!