If the Spokane Chiefs bounce back as quickly as their coach, they may get a chance to redeem themselves in front of the home crowd this week.
Chiefs coach Mike Babcock allowed himself about 10 minutes to stew over a 6-3 home-ice loss to the Kelowna Rockets Sunday night, then turned his energy to tonight’s sixth game of the Western Hockey League West Division quarterfinals.
The Rockets will end the series with a win in tiny Memorial Arena. The Chiefs will force a seventh and deciding game in Spokane on Wednesday night if they win tonight.
“They (Rockets) stole one in our building,” Babcock said. “We’re going to get it looked after and do the same in theirs.”
The winner moves into the division semifinals against the survivor of the Prince George-Kamloops series, which is tied 3-3 with Game 7 tonight in Prince George.
Rockets coach Pete Anholt applauded his fifth-seeded team’s poise Sunday night as it moved to within a game of upsetting the second-seeded Chiefs.
“We were a mature, patient team, especially in the second period when we were killing some penalties,” Anholt said. “A guy like (defenseman Scott) Hannan was in the box a lot in the second period. That really put us shorthanded on the back end, but we weathered the storm.”
The game turned on a soft goal by Kelowna’s Jason Deleurme 8 minutes into the third period. It put the Rockets up by two, prompted Babcock to yank Aren Miller and took the fight out of the Chiefs, who had dominated territorial play to that point.
“When we scored that fifth goal the air came out of the crowd and went into us,” said Kelowna’s Brett McLean, who had a hat trick. “After that, we sensed that this was our game to win, and we really played a solid last 10 minutes.”
What turned an under-achieving Rockets team through most of the regular-season into one that wins the tough games?
“We’re a year older and much more mature,” said McLean. “Teams like Spoke and us are very evenly matched. You just have to go nose-to-nose with them.
“We’ve gone nose-to-nose with them to this point. They’re going to play their guts out (tonight), which is how Spokane plays every game. You’ve got to give them credit that way. They never stop coming at you.”
The Chiefs haven’t taken much advantage of the few cracks they’ve had on the power play. Spokane has scored on only 3 for 27 power-play opportunities through five games.
“They’ve been blocking (shots) and we’ve been missing the net,” Chiefs captain Trent Whitfield said. “We’ve just got to work harder at getting the puck to the net, not shooting it by the net or into their pads.
“Give them credit,” Whitfield said. “They’re doing everything they have to do to win.”
The Chiefs went 1-3 in the regular season and are 0-2 thus far in the playoffs in Memorial Arena… . David Haun, who stepped in for Miller on Sunday, will start in goal for the Chiefs. … Anholt said subbing Chris Noble with Jordan Watt in goal to start the second period Sunday night was not a planned move. “We just decided to make a change,” the Rockets coach said. It worked. Watt has all three Kelowna wins in this series.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CHIEFS VS. ROCKETS Rockets lead best-of-7 series 3-2 Game 6: Tonight at Kelowna, 7:30 Game 7: Wednesday at Spokane, 7* * if necessary
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