Just before Wednesday night’s game, Mike Babcock talked about a disturbing tendency in his Spokane Chiefs during the last 14 games.
When they’ve lost, they’ve had only themselves to blame.
Not this time, not after the Prince George Cougars came back with two third-period goals to beat the Chiefs 3-2 before 10,234 - the largest midweek crowd ever to watch a Spokane game.
It was the Chiefs’ first loss after 30 straight wins in games they’ve led after two periods.
More importantly, it kept the Chiefs from wrapping up second place in the Western Hockey League West, with two games remaining.
The Chiefs are at Tri-City Friday night. They wind up their regular season here Saturday night with the same club. Prince George - one point down in the standings - is at Kelowna Friday night and in Seattle Sunday night.
“We didn’t beat ourselves tonight,” Babcock said. “We were 2 for 6 on the power play (against a tough group of penalty killers). They were 0 for 5. We were disciplined, we held them to 28 shots and kept their big line (centered by Quinn Hancock) off the score sheet.”
So what went wrong?
“At playoff time, the team that dives headfirst, the team that’s desperate, the one that pays the price, wins,” Babcock said. “There’s a message in this for us. The guys in the playoffs who take the biggest hacks and have the most cuts, they win.”
Down 2-1 after two periods, Prince George’s Mike Bayrack scored 6:58 into the third.
“After the faceoff was won by (Curtis) Tipler, who put it back, I was getting picked by Leeb,” Bayrack recounted. “I just turned around and tried to roll off the pick and there it was. There were so many bodies in front of the net it was just lying there. I had the open net and just shot it in.”
“How many nights would you expect Bayrack (and his line) to outscore Leeb and his guys?” Babcock wondered.
Not many, but playoff games - and those such as this that are played at playoff intensity - are rife with stories of journeymen who turn into stars, however briefly.
When Jarrett Smith knocked in his own rebound 1:25 later, the Cougars went to 42-23-5. Spokane fell to 43-22-4.
“The winning goal, some people would say that’s a penalty (for holding the stick), but it’s a battle,” Babcock said. “It’s a one-on-one battle. They did a good job, we did a good job, but they were better in the third. That’s when you win.”
The Chiefs were hurt by the loss of Cam Severson early in the game to a hip-flexor pull.
Second place means home-ice advantage through the division playoffs against all but regular-season champ Portland.
Prince George is clearly a better club with defenseman Eric Brewer. Playing his second game after spending eight weeks out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, Brewer was a force in the defensive zone.
Joel Kwiatkowski put the Cougs up 1-0 with the 18th point in his past 19 games, scoring on a blast from the left point 1:28 into the game.
The Chiefs got it back on the power play when Perry Johnson fired wide from the point, but Ty Jones scored on the redirect going to the net with 1:34 left in the first period.
Spokane led 2-1 after two periods when Trent Whitfield’s pass from the top of the circle found Rick Berry alone just to the left of the net. Berry’s tap-in came with 1:31 left in the period on a power play after Prince George had too many men on the ice.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE ICE Friday: Spokane Chiefs at Tri-City Americans, 7:05 p.m.