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CHIEFS BLOG: Chiefs find tough sledding through U.S. Division

Spokane is still just 2 points behind Tri-City for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

SPOKANE, Wash — After snapping a 4 game losing streak, which included 3 in a row against Portland, the Chiefs finally tasted victory with a 3-2 win over the Winterhawks on Saturday the 12th. Spokane didn't get a lot of time to savor the triumph though, as the Chiefs were right back on the ice 3 days later to once again host Portland in the final game of a three game home stand. The entire stand was against the Hawks as the two clubs ended up meeting 5 straight times in the first half of February. Tuesday's game with Portland would be the start of a 4 game week for Spokane, as the Chiefs would then embark on a three games in three night's road trip to Seattle, Tri City and Portland over the weekend. 

In their last outing with Portland, rookie goaltender Cooper Michaluk picked up his first career win in his first start with a 36 save performance in Saturday's 3-2 victory. Michaluk was pressed into duty when starter Mason Beaupit was injured the previous week. Beaupit got some good news off the ice though, as he was one of 15 Western Hockey League players named to the Top Prospects game in late March. Beaupit is the first Chief to be so honored since Jack Finley, who ended up going in the 2nd round of the NHL draft to Tampa Bay after that season. The Chiefs knew Portland would be coming out firing Tuesday, especially with the Chiefs snapping their 11 game win streak and 18 game point streak the previous meeting. 

MIchaluk was back in net on Tuesday as the two clubs Tuesday would go at it for the fifth straight meeting. The first period was back and forth but Portland would break through with a goal late in the period to take a 1-0 lead after one. Spokane came right back early in the second as Raegan Wiles scored from the right wing 3:39 in to tie the game at one. The Chiefs had a chance to take the lead on the power play midway through the period but the Winterhawks turned the tables with a shorthanded goal to take a 2-1 advantage after two. The Chiefs would out shoot Portland 11-8 in the third but the Hawks would put the game away with two goals less than 3 minutes apart midway through to take command of the game at 4-1. Spokane would get a boost late when rookie Jake Gudelj scored his first career goal in the waning seconds but the Chiefs would lose their 4th in 5 games with Portland in a 4-2 defeat. 

Spokane would get some good news off the ice as Tri-City lost in Seattle Tuesday and Victoria lost to Kamloops on Wednesday. The results would leave the Chiefs just one point back of Tri for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Chiefs then headed out on the road for a demanding three games in three nights stretch through Seattle, Tri-City and Portland. Spokane had done the same road trip at the end of January and fared poorly, losing all three games and picking up just one point out of six with an overtime loss in Portland. The Chiefs started things on Friday in Seattle, a team Spokane had fared poorly against, winning just 2 of 10 previous meetings. Both wins had come in back to back meetings in December, but the Thunderbirds had won 4 in a row in decisive fashion, outscoring the Chiefs 28-4 in those contests. 

Cooper Michaluk got his third straight start in goal and he and the team got a huge boost early when Chase Bertholet scored just 1:12 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Seattle would equalize midway through the period as the Thunderbirds converted their only power play chance in the first to send the game to the second tied at one. The second period would be the decisive one as the T-Birds scored two goals to take a 3-1 advantage to the third. Michaluk kept the Chiefs in the game, turning aside 20 shots in the first two periods while Spokane only managed 8 attempts in the first 40 minutes. The Chiefs got things going offensively in the third, out shooting Seattle 12-9 and generating the only two power play chances in the period, but Seattle goalie Scott Ratzlaff stoned every Chiefs effort and improved to 6-0 vs. Spokane this year with a 3-1 victory. 

While the result was disappointing, the effort was extremely better than the pummelings the team had taken to the Thunderbirds in their last 4 meetings. Michaluk continued to impress in net, turning away 29 Seattle shots and keeping the Chiefs in the game. Spokane would then head to Tri-City the next night with a chance to move into 8th place in the West and the final playoff berth in the conference. The Chiefs were still just one point back of Tri and Victoria for the 8th spot heading into Saturday's tilt with the Americans and Spokane got good news heading in as Mason Beaupit was cleared to get back in net for the Chiefs. Beaupit had picked up his only shutout of the year back in October in Tri and a similar performance would be a nice way for the team to snap their 2 game losing streak for the week. 

Tri City would spoil any hopes of a shutout performance just over 8 minutes into the contest to take a 1-0 lead after one. The Chiefs would get 4 straight power plays in the second period and would convert on the third as Nick McCarry's goal would tie the game at one 6:03 into the frame. Tri-City would answer though with 2 goals in just 2:45 to take a 3-1 lead into the third. Spokane out shot Tri 27-22 through 40 minutes and had all 4 power plays in the game, yet found themselves down 2 with just 20 minutes to play. In the third, the Chiefs came out determined to make up the deficit. Brayden Crampton's second career goal just 1:56 into the period would cut the deficit to 3-2. Kooper Gizowski then netted his third career goal, and second in Tri at 7:15, to bring the Chiefs even at 3-3. 

Spokane couldn't find the go ahead goal late in the third as the Chiefs had to kill off two Tri-City power plays late to send the game to overtime for the first time in 9 meetings between the two clubs. In the OT, Tri controlled the puck and would draw a questionable penalty on the Chiefs just over a minute in to go on the power play. The Americans would enjoy their first win in 6 overtime games this season as they scored on the 4 on 3 advantage 2:01 into the overtime to take a 4-3 victory over Spokane. It was Tri's second straight home win over Spokane after dropping the first 4 on their home ice this season. The Chiefs were now 2 points back of Tri-City for the 4th place spot in the division and for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West. Spokane now had the tough task of trying to salvage the final game of the week in Portland against a Winterhawks squad that had won 9 of 11 from the Chiefs this season, including 4 of 5 over the past 2 weeks. 

Spokane had found very little success in Portland this year, going 0-4-1 in the 5 games played in the Rose City. Portland was also coming off a 5-1 loss at home to Seattle the night before, as the Thunderbirds were now within 2 points of the Winterhawks for 2nd place in the division. 

Both teams were playing their 3rd game in 3 nights, so the first period would say a lot about who had the most left in the tank heading forward. It didn't take long to find out the answer, as Portland would score just 1:20 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Two more goals from the Winterhawks would put Portland up 3-0 after 20 minutes and leave Spokane with a big hole to dig out. Things didn't get any easier in the second as Portland scored midway through the period to grab a 4-0 advantage. The Chiefs got on the board less than 6 minutes later when Jake Gudelj scored his second goal in the last two games vs. the Winterhawks to bring Spokane within 4-1 after two. The Chiefs had been dominated offensively by Portland through two periods, getting out shot 38-15, but an early goal in the third could get Spokane right back in the contest. 

That would not be the case. Far from it in fact. Portland scored just over 5 minutes into the third to take a commanding 5-1 lead. The Winterhawks kept up the pressure and scored at 14:22 to put the game away at 6-1. The game nose dived from there for the Chiefs as a 5 minute major penalty led to 3 Portland power play goals over the final 4 minutes of the contest. Portland out shot Spokane 23-6 in the third on their way to a 5 goal period and would out shoot the Chiefs 61-21 on their way to a 9-1 thrashing of the Chiefs. The meeting was the last of the regular season between the two and thank goodness for Spokane. Portland won 10 of 12 meetings and outscored the Chiefs 63-22 in those contests. Spokane was out shot in every game with their two wins coming on home ice by scores of 4-1 and 3-2. 

Spokane is still just 2 points back of Tri-City for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and will get a bit of break in the schedule with just 2 games this week, both of them at home as they host Seattle and Tri-City on Friday and Saturday. Both games are at 7:05 pm with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm. Friday's game is on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA while Saturday's tilt is on 94.1 FM the Bear and 790 AM KJRB due to Gonzaga basketball. I'll have the call this weekend for a couple of huge games for the Chiefs as they enter the final 20 games of their schedule. Let's hope the team has some bounce back in them after a winless week and we hope to see you at the rink!

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