SPOKANE, Wash. — Playoff races are the most exciting moments in sports. The highs and lows are as noticeable as riding any rollercoaster for coaches, players and fans. After struggling most of the season, the Chiefs had looked to find their stride as they had moved themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race in the Western Hockey League with their best hockey of the year in late February and early March. Spokane had moved into 7th in the West standings and were just two points back of 6th place Vancouver with a win over the Giants two weeks ago. Since that high point, the Chiefs had slipped into a tie for the 8th and final playoff spot in the standings and had dropped 3 straight to fall 5 points back of 7th place Victoria with just 9 games left in the season. To make matters even more difficult for the Chiefs, they had just one home game left in those 9 games, so they were going to have to earn a spot by figuring out how to win away from the Spokane Arena.
The Chiefs were just 7-16-2-1 on enemy ice this season, with 4 wins at Tri City, 2 in Prince George and 1 in Seattle. Otherwise, Spokane had gone O-fer on the road. The club was now going to have to figure out how to find the win column as the Chiefs continued their season long 6 game road trip this past week with back to back tilts at division leading Everett and Tri City on Friday and Saturday. Spokane had played those two in back to back games the previous weekend, dropping a pair of 6-3 decisions to Tri City at home on Saturday before losing in Everett Sunday. The 3 game losing streak, combined with Victoria's 4 game win streak had moved the Royals from 3 points back of the Chiefs to 5 points ahead of Spokane coming into the weekend road swing.
The trip started in Everett on the last Friday of March, just 6 days after Spokane had lost to the Silvertips on Everett's home ice. Spokane had found nothing but frustration in their season series with the Silvertips, having lost 11 straight with just two overtime losses to show for Spokane. The Chiefs were 0-5 in Everett and were getting one final chance to get a road victory over the Tips. Goalie Mason Beaupit, who had shined with 30 minutes of shutout hockey in goal during the Top Prospects game earlier in the week in Ontario, flew into Everett to meet the Chiefs. Beaupit would get the night off as Cooper Michaluk, who was just called up, would get the start in net. The Chiefs were still without defensemen Graham Sward, Logan Cunningham and Ben Bonni and forwards Erik Atchison and Carter Streek due to injuries.
The two clubs were scoreless through the first half of the first period, but Everett would break through after a missed Spokane power play as the Silvertips scored on the rush after a Chiefs turnover outside their blue line to take a 1-0 lead. Everett took over the first after that, as they outshot the Chiefs 14-4 and would take a 2-0 advantage with their second goal at 15:22 of the period. The Silvertips would come out in the second and score 16 seconds into the period on a power play tally to go up 3-0. Captain Bear Hughes got the Chiefs on the board with his team leading 22nd of the season at 3:26 to bring Spokane within 3-1. The Chiefs had a chance to cut into the lead further with a 5 minute power play, but couldn't find the net. Everett took advantage as they would score on their own 5 minute power play midway through the period to go ahead 4-1. The Silvertips then effectively ended the competitive phase of this contest when they scored an easy goal in the final 5 minutes of the period to take a commanding 5-1 lead after two.
Everett came out in the third and scored 2 goals in the first 4:16 of the period to put the game away at 7-1. The Chiefs Timafey Kovgoreniya would cap the scoring with his 3rd of the season at 7:05 of the frame but Spokane would drop their 12th straight to Everett by a 7-2 margin. Everett dominated the contest, outshooting Spokane 48-15, including a 20-2 deficit in the third. The Silvertips went 3-6 on the power play while the Chiefs were 0-3 on the man advantage. About the only good news for Spokane came off the ice as Prince George lost in Victoria and Tri City fell at Portland. The Chiefs remained tied with PG for the final playoff spot in the West and 4 points ahead of Tri City. With now 8 games left in the season, Spokane faced their biggest game of the year the following night as they headed to Kennewick to take on Tri for the final time this season.
With the team already short handed due to injury, the club suffered further losses to the roster for Saturday's game when Saige Weinstein and Grady Lane were suspended by the league for major penalties taken in Friday's loss at Everett. Spokane did have Mason Beaupit in goal for their showdown with the Americans and they would need him in the first period. Beaupit turned aside all 10 Tri City shots in the first as the two teams headed to the second scoreless. Spokane had 3 power play chances in the opening frame, including a 1:49 5 on 3 advantage midway through the period, but failed to score. In the second, Tri City would get on the board first with a Sam Huo rebound goal 4:38 into the period to take a 1-0 lead after two. The Chiefs failed to score on two more power play opportunities as they were 0-5 after 40 minutes.
In the third, the Americans got another Huo rebound goal, this time 2:35 in, to go up 2-0. Sasha Mutala scored another rebound tally, this one at 8:50 of the period to give the Americans a commanding 3-0 lead. Spokane had a chance to get back in the game when the Ams took a 4 minute double minor penalty for high sticking late in the third. The Chiefs would pull Beaupit in net for a 6 on 4 advantage, but Mutala would score his second of the period on a short handed, empty net goal with 1:45 left to wrap up a 4-0 shutout victory. It was the first shut out win for Tri City this season, as Spokane would out shoot the Ams 38-26 in the game but go a woeful 0-7 on the power play in their second straight loss to the chief rivals in the last week.
The loss would become even more damaging when Prince George shut out Victoria to move 2 points ahead of the Chiefs for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West. Tri City's win brought the Americans within 2 points of Spokane for 9th. Spokane's losing streak is now 5 straight as the power play is 0-15 through the first 3 games of the 6 game road trip. Time is running out on the Chiefs as they have just 7 games left in the season, with 6 of those on the road. Spokane has won just 2 road games in the 2022 calendar year, with both coming in back to back nights in Prince George the first weekend of March. The Chiefs now have to make their way back into the playoff picture by winning on the road. They will have 3 more chances to do that this week when they play 3 games in 3 nights in British Columbia Friday through Sunday. Spokane will face B.C. Division leader Kamloops on Friday and then travel to Vancouver for back to back games Saturday and Sunday. I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA for all three contests. Friday and Saturday's games will drop the puck at 7:05 pm with the pre-game shows at 6:30 pm. Sunday's game will have the pre-game at 3:30 pm and the puck drop at 4:05 pm. It's now or never for the Chiefs as this weekend could very well determine if the team has a shot at the playoffs or should start thinking about next year. Let's hope the former and we hope to see you on the radio!