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Hawks Have Chiefs Down

The Spokane Chiefs in two playoff games haven’t measured up to their regular-season performance. Pick a name, just about any name, and assign the blame.

The goaltender, David Lemanowicz, was soft on Saturday night, particularly after taking a rocket of a slap shot off the mask.

The defense lost sight of Portland’s Richard Zednik.

The forwards were a little too cute with the puck. When they had the shot with an angle or an open net they were wild high or wide.

The timing’s off. They’ve given up a ton of shots and lost key faceoffs.

But the forces at work here have more to do with credit than blame.

Portland goaltender Brent Belecki is surprising everybody, even the guys on his own bench. After scoring the winning goal in overtime Friday night, Brad Isbister said the Winter Hawks were “kind of shocked” at the lengths Belecki was going to to turn back Spokane shots.

This is still a story in search of an ending, but the interesting character after two chapters is Brent Belecki.

In the background of any playoff drama is the injury spectre. The Chiefs take the ice tonight for Game Three in the Portland Rose Garden wondering what kind of shape Zednik - the most skilled player on either side - is in.

Zednik, healthy and motivated, is a threat every trip across the blue line, but from the way he was limping after Saturday night’s game he may come in tonight at less than 100 percent.

In a brief exchange after the game it appeared he’d suffered a pulled or strained groin. It may slow him down, it may not.

It could be a factor.

But forget the could-bes and the whispers you hear at this time of year, that this star or that star is more concerned about getting on with his pro career than killing himself to extend his time in junior hockey.

That happens, but it hasn’t happened to Richard Zednik.

The definites so far:

Portland has the hot goaltender.

Portland has the superstar on a roll - Zednik.

Portland’s third line - Chris Jacobson, Paul Heron and Bobby Russell - has held its own.

Herron’s plus/minus is even, Jacobson and Russell are minus 1. Matched against Spokane’s Jan Hrdina, John Cirjak and Joe Cardarelli, they were expected to be a lot worse than minus 1. That line hasn’t scored, but it’s only given up one goal.

The prevailing thought was that Spokane’s No. 1 line - Darren Sinclair, Jay Bertsch and Dmitri Leonov - would nullify Dave Scatchard, Zednik and Matt Davidson.

Expectations were that Spokane’s second wave - Trent Whitfield, Jason Podollan and Greg Leeb - would be even more productive against Portland’s Todd Robinson, Colin Forbes and Isbister.

Whitfield has scored short-handed and on the power play. Podollan had a goal and two assists Saturday night. Cardarelli has a pair of goals.

They haven’t disappeared under the weight of the pressure. The Chiefs haven’t lost it.

The Winter Hawks, who have the size and quickness to negate the Chiefs’ normally impressive depth, have put everything together at the right time.

“I think they felt their depth would get to us sooner or later,” Portland coach Brent Peterson said. “It still might. So far, our guys have done the job.”

That comes as more of a surprise than a shock. Spokane is seeded No. 1, Portland No. 6, but consider where these two were in September. Both were expected to run mid-pack behind Kelowna, Kamloops and Tri-City.

The Winter Hawks basically took the last month off and lived up to expectations. The Chiefs played hard every night. And even though they won six of eight from Portland, the two were never that far apart. The talent is closer than the regular-season suggests.

Can a team turn it up in the playoffs? Sure. The latest evidence: Portland 2, Spokane 0.

The question tonight is how much does the overachiever have left?

What’s left of the Spokane Chiefs’ record-setting season may yet be measured in weeks.

More likely, it’s down to a matter of days.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo