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Top of Western Conference solidly in place

Following Saturday's busy night in the Western Hockey League, including the Spokane Chiefs' 7-0 whitewash of the Tri-City Americans, it appears as if something drastic would have to occur to shake up the top five seeds in the Western Conference. Read story

With the regular season down to four weeks, or between 11 and 14 games, the top of the Western Conference breaks down like this: No. 1 Kelowna (96 points) has a seven-point gap on No. 2 Portland despite the Winterhawks' 16-game winning streak; Portland (89) is five points ahead of No. 3 Victoria; Victoria (84) has five points on No. 4 Seattle; Seattle (79) leads Spokane by eight points; and No. 5 Spokane (71) holds a seven-point gap on Everett and Vancouver.

The Chiefs had lost six of seven games heading in to Saturday, so their easy triumph gave coach Don Nachbaur reason to smile.

“If we’re going to get anywhere in the playoffs, we have to find our game, and that’s what this was about tonight,” Nachbaur said.

“I think anytime (the team) goes in a slump the mistakes get bigger, so it’s nice to have a night like this tonight,” said Mitch Holmberg, who led the way with four points. “But I think as long as we all stuck with it, it was going to be good.”

The Chiefs have scored seven goals in two consecutive games against one of the league's top goalies, Eric Comrie, who was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets last year. Comrie entered the game No. 2 in save percentage (.926) and No. 4 in goals-against average (2.46) in the WHL.

But the Chiefs peppered Comrie from the opening minute, putting so many shots on goal (48) that rebounds became plentiful. Holmberg's second power-play goal was on a 5-on-3.

“We’re going to have good games and bad games,” Nachbaur said. “The thing that we struggle with is just consistently playing the right way. … We put them in a position where (Comrie’s) team had to defend those rebounds and they didn’t. We won playing the right way.”

Spokane scored its most power-play goals (three) since Dec. 14 against Prince George. The Chiefs had been 5 for 63 on the power play in their last 17 games.

“We just had to get a little bit more simple with (the power-play chances),” Holmberg said. “As you saw tonight, we were just trying to get pucks to the net. That’s how we got those goals, getting to the net and getting to those dirty areas.”

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Jim Meehan (@srjimm) Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Sean Kramer Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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Vince Grippi is the online producer for SportsLink, a product of The Spokesman-Review.

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