Is this where it all ends?
It’s not the first time the Spokane Chiefs have asked themselves that question.
The Chiefs find themselves one game from elimination - again - after Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings left them trailing this best-of-seven Western Hockey League championship series 3-1.
Four hundred tickets remained this morning for tonight’s 7 o’clock game.
Should the Wheat Kings win, they’ll go home to continue preparations for next week’s Memorial Cup in Peterborough, Ontario. A Chiefs victory will push this series to a sixth game here Saturday night.
Game 4 turned on a break, a great break down the stretch for the Wheat Kings, before another sellout crowd of 10,528 in the Arena.
Brandon’s Vinnie Jonasson, one of the Wheat Kings’ 17 home-grown players from Manitoba, jumped out of the penalty box just as Kelly Smart was sending the puck ahead. Jonasson picked it up with Peter Schaefer breaking free on his right and took advantage of the two-on-one break against Spokane’s Sean Gillam.
“I was going to shoot but at the last second I decided to pass,” the 19-year-old Jonasson said. “I thought he (Chiefs goaltender David Lemanowicz) would be more surprised by a pass. When he came out to cut the angle down I knew if I could get it over there it was a for-sure goal.
“I passed it over and Peter just swiped it into the net. The rest was history.”
History - Schaefer’s goal, his 10th of the playoffs - came at 15:34 of the third period.
At least the Chiefs have been here before. They’ve played their best hockey with their backs to the wall.
“It’s important to give Brandon credit,” Chiefs coach Mike Babcock said. “They’re an excellent team. But in these situations you want to be the best you can be. Then, if they find a way to beat you, great. Tonight, they were good and we weren’t as good as we could be.
“We got more.”
Gillam, the Chiefs captain, said the loss - the Chiefs’ fifth against only three wins in the playoffs at home - “came down to specialty teams again. Their penalty killing was better than our power play.
“We got one (power-play goal) but when we needed it down the stretch it wasn’t there,” Gillam said. “Their goalie (Jody Lehman) made a couple of key saves for them and they got a lucky break.”
On the game-deciding play, Schaefer said the Wheat Kings “Actually had 3-on-1 - Justin Kurtz was following behind. I went to the net and Vinnie made a great pass between the defender’s legs. I just saw it at the last second, with just enough time to shoot it in.
“I went stick side with it. He (Lemanowicz) may have gotten a piece of it. It was a lucky goal.”
Nine of the Chiefs’ last 12 playoff games have been decided by a goal. This was as close and entertaining as any.
The Chiefs came out flying after Monday night’s crushing 9-5 loss in Brandon.
Dmitri Leonov rebounded Jason Podollan’s shot from the left point of the power play at 9:54 of the first period to put Spokane up 1-0. It was Podollan’s 50th point in 51 playoff games.
The Wheat Kings dominated the second period, running up a 15-4 advantage in shots and tying the game just as a power play expired.
Brandon’s Bobby Brown picked up where he left off Monday night when he had two goals and five points, punching through on Lemanowicz at 10:50 of the period.
Lemanowicz, bouncing side to side, swept away six shots on the power play as the Wheat Kings kept the Chiefs in their zone - and too busy to bring on fresh bodies - for the entire 2 minutes. Brown scored 5 seconds after Podollan was leaving the box.
The Wheat Kings say ending the series in Spokane is a priority, but it won’t be easy.
“Spokane is known for never giving up,” Schaefer said. “They showed it tonight. They had a faceoff in our end (with 8.9 seconds left and the extra attacker on) and pressured us right to the end. We’re going to have to work twice as hard (tonight).”
It was a game of momentum swings.
“They come out strong,” said Schaefer, one of 11 Brandon veterans who played in last year’s Memorial Cup and one of four Wheat Kings among the WHL’s top 10 in playoff points.
“The first 10 minutes, they get off a lot of pressure. If you can handle that I think you’re in for a good game.
“We want to win the league and go to the Memorial Cup,” Schaefer added. “We feel we blew it last year.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo