Given their success against Eastern Conference teams this season, and their solid record against the Prince Albert Raiders in recent years, the odds seemed to favor the Spokane Chiefs for Wednesday night's Western Hockey League game at the Arena. The odds were wrong. Read story
The Chiefs and Raiders meet just once per season, alternating home and away games. Spokane had won five of the last six encounters with Prince Albert, including the last three at home.
Spokane had also dominated Eastern Conference teams this season, entering the night with a 9-3-0-1 record.
But Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur often talks about teams playing with desperation, and the Raiders definitely have a bit more of that quality as the regular season enters its final stretch (12 more games for both teams).
While the Chiefs are all but guaranteed a postseason berth, needing just four points to clinch, the Raiders are attempting to sneak in. Wednesday's win left Prince Albert tied with Red Deer for eighth place in the conference with 60 points. The top eight advance to the playoffs.
"We’re definitely in contention for the eighth spot, and I think we’re a pretty confident group right now and we have to keep it going down the stretch," said Raiders center Shane Danyluk, whose goals 3:13 apart in the second period broke Spokane's back.
The Chiefs dominated the first period, especially the final 10 minutes, but their 16-7 edge in shots on goal accounted for nothing during a period in which the Raiders also didn't score.
The tide turned about one-third of the way through the second period, when the Chiefs picked up three penalties in a matter of 3:43. No sooner had Spokane killed off the Raiders' first power play when the Chiefs' Colton Bobyk picked up a tripping penalty at 9:24. Eight seconds later, Dakota Conroy's power-play goal put the Raiders ahead for good.
"I thought we played OK in the first period and then we killed 8 of the first 12 minutes of the second period and you can’t do that," Nachbaur said. "The penalties we take, whether they’re earned or not, we have to kill those off, and it took away all of the momentum from the game."
Chiefs goalie Eric Williams played for Prince Albert two years ago, but Nachbaur didn't think the Spokane 20-year-old was too overeager to defeat his former team.
"You look at the first goal they scored and Eric Williams was looking through a pair of pads on the other team," Nachbaur said. "He couldn’t even see the puck. The screen was set up really nice by their guy and it was an easy goal for them."
Nachbaur said what happened on Tuesday set the tone for Wednesday.
"I talk about, 'You practice sharp, you’re going to play sharp,' and we were brutal yesterday in practice, I thought," he said. "I did not like our effort in practice at all yesterday and it showed up today."
The Raiders began a five-game swing through the tough U.S. Division, knowing that their season is on the line.
"This is the longest road trip of the year and it’s going to be the toughest," Danyluk said. "We’re going to be facing some adversity here and we have to be ready for it and get some points on this trip."