SPOKANE, Wash. — March is generally looked upon by sports fans as the time for madness in college basketball. In the hockey world, it's time to have your clubs playing their best team games as the playoffs are approaching in a big hurry.
In a normal season, this would be about the time of the final week of the regular season. With the covid postponements from earlier in the year, the regular season isn't due to wrap up for another 5 weeks. For many teams though, it's the final 15 games or less left in the season, so the clock is running.
The Chiefs know the clock is winding down, as they are in a dogfight for one of the final 3 playoff berths left in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League. Spokane began the week tied with Prince George for the 7th spot in the playoff race, 3 points ahead of Victoria and 8 up on Tri-City. The Chiefs were also just 4 points back of 6th place Vancouver in the standings after winning 2 of 3 last week with victories over Vancouver and Tri-City.
Spokane headed into mid-March with a challenging week as they had to face division-leading Everett twice while taking on chief rival Tri-City in between those two meetings with the Silvertips. The Chiefs only loss in their last 5 games had come to Everett as the Tips knocked off Spokane 6-3 on Friday the 11th. Spokane was 0-7-2 vs. Everett this season with 4 meetings between the two left in the season, and two of them happening this week. The Chiefs were still short 4 players due to injury as forwards Erik Atchison and Michael Cicek and defensemen Graham Sward and Logan Cunningham were still on the shelf. Goalie Mason Beaupit would get the start Tuesday and winning his last 6 starts in a row.
It became obvious about 2 minutes into the game that the Silvertips were ready to play as they kept the puck in the Chiefs end of the ice for two minutes. The Chiefs were gassed defensively and the Tips tapped in an easy rebound goal 4:33 into the game to take a 1-0 lead. Beaupit and the defense was under siege the rest of the period as the Silvertips outshot Spokane 20-6 in the first. Everett would outshoot the Chiefs 11-6 in the second and would score again on a rebound net front in the period, this time 4:36 into the frame. The Silvertips pinned the Chiefs back in their own zone consistently throughout the game and would continue to do so in the third as they once again outshot Spokane in the final period, this time 11-7. Everett would wrap up a 3-0 shutout victory with a goal late in the third as they secured their 10th straight win over the Chiefs this season.
The Chiefs were outshot 42-20 as the Silvertips held the Chiefs to 20 or fewer shots in a game for the 6th time in 10 games this year. Everett shut out Spokane for the first time this season, although the Chiefs have now been blanked 6 times this 2021-22 campaign. Five of the shutouts have come since January 15th. Beaupit was the sole reason Spokane stayed in the game as he turned aside 39 shots but the Chiefs goalie would see his season-high 6 game win streak come to an end. The club remained even with Prince George with the loss though as the Cougars were idle. Spokane did get some good news as Tri-City also lost, as they dropped their 7th straight in Seattle. The Chiefs stayed 8 points up on the Americans as Tri was next up for Spokane with a visit to the Spokane Arena on Saturday.
It was the next to last home game of the season for the Chiefs as they hoped to continue their season success against the Ams. Spokane had won 8 of 11 vs. Tri-City, including their last two games on home ice by a combined 13-2 score. The Americans had snapped their losing streak on Wednesday in Vancouver but had lost their second straight to Seattle on Friday in Kennewick as they were 6 points back of the Chiefs entering Saturday's tilt. Tri-City didn't look like a team playing their 4th game in 5 nights as they came out and scored just 56 seconds into the game to jump out to a quick 1-0 lead. Spokane would rally in the opening frame thanks to the power play. Yannick Proske scored his 10th of the year midway through the period to even the contest at one. Tri answered right back with a power-play goal just over 3 minutes later to re-take the lead at 2-1. The Chiefs would get their 3rd power-play chance of the period with less than 2 minutes left and would score their second power-play goal of the period as Chase Bertholet scored his team-leading 21st of the year to send the game to the second tied at two.
The Americans Sasha Mutala got Tri-City back on top with a rebound goal close to 7 minutes into the second to make it 3-2 Ams. A Spokane turnover in their own zone just under 10 minutes later would give Tri their first multi-goal lead at 4-2. The Chiefs would convert their 3rd power-play chance in 4 attempts when Proske scored his second goal of the night at 18:59 of the second to narrow the Tri-City lead to 4-3 after two periods. Spokane would get a 5 on 3 power-play chance less than 3 minutes into the third, but would be unable to capitalize. The Chiefs in fact would go 0-4 on the power play in the third after their 3 for 4 start. The Americans would use the momentum of their penalty kills as Mutala would score his second of the game with a net front-drive just over 7 minutes in to give Tri a 5-3 lead. The Americans would secure their 4th win in 12 meetings with the Chiefs with an empty net goal as Tri-City put away Spokane with a 6-3 victory.
The win brought the Ams within 4 points of Spokane for 8th in the Western Conference race. Victoria defeated Prince George for the second straight night to move a point ahead of both Spokane and PG for the 7th place spot in the West with just 11 games left in the season. Spokane had a chance to move back a point ahead of Victoria and 2 up on Prince George if they could find a way to get their first win of the year against Everett on Sunday afternoon over on the Silvertips home ice. Everett was coming off a 5-2 home win over Vancouver the night before and a victory for the Tips over the Chiefs would move Everett into first place in the West ahead of Kamloops. Spokane would go with Manny Panghli in net as Mason Beaupit was given the night off as he prepared to fly back to Ontario for this week's Top Prospects game.
Like the night before, the Chiefs got off to a slow start as the Silvertips scored just 1:08 into the game on a shot from the right point to take a 1-0 lead. Everett would add to the margin with a rebound net-front just over 4 minutes later to go up 2-0.
Spokane came right back though as Nick McCarry scored his 9th as a Chief and 16th of the year overall midway through the first to cut the deficit to 2-1 after one. Everett would go back up by 2 on a power-play goal late in the second and would follow that up with another tally less than 3 minutes later to take a commanding 4-1 lead to the third.
Spokane would start a comeback 4:20 into the final period with McCarry's second goal of the game to bring the Chiefs within 4-2. The Chiefs would get two golden chances to score short-handed and get within one, but Silvertips goalie Koen McInnes stopped both shots from McCarry and Bear Hughes to keep it a two-goal game. Everett would then score the next time they brought the puck in the Chiefs zone and would go back up 3 at 5-2.
Spokane's Ty Cheveldayoff would give the Chiefs hope with a goal 1:11 later to bring Spokane to a 5-3 deficit, but Everett would put the game away on an empty-net tally in the final 2 minutes to wrap up their 11th straight win over the Chiefs this season with a 6-3 victory.
The club has now dropped three straight but still, hold on to the final playoff berth as they are tied with Prince George with 9 games remaining in the season. Unfortunately for Spokane, the team has 8 of those on the road, where the team is a dismal 7-16-2-1 this year.
There is no question the Chiefs will have to win at least 3 of those 8 if they have any hope of getting into the postseason. The schedule doesn't get any easier either, as Spokane started a 6 game road trip with the loss in Everett Sunday.
The Chiefs have just two games this week, as they travel back to Everett on Friday before heading to Tri-City for the final meeting with the Americans this season on Saturday. We'll see how the team comes out next weekend as they are literally in a fight for their playoff lives with just 4 weeks left in the season.
I'll have the call on 103.5 FM the Game and 1510 AM KGA with Friday's pre-game from Everett at 6:30 pm and the puck drop at 7:05 pm. Saturday's game from Tri-City will be a 5:30 pm pre-game and 6:05 pm puck drop.
Realistically, Spokane needs to get 1 to 2 points from the weekend to remain in the final playoff spot. Let's see if that occurs, and we hope to see you on the radio!