2 down, 2 to go
After 3 minutes of action on Saturday night, the Lethbridge Hurricanes had already improved their performance.
They had two shots on goal one night after the Spokane Chiefs held them to a shotless first period. But it didn’t seem to matter much.
By the time they had taken the two shots, the Chiefs had scored two goals. And in 60 minutes, they had picked up their second straight victory over the Hurricanes in a 5-2 win at the Arena that gave them a 2-0 lead in the Western Hockey League championship series.
The Chiefs’ second line provided the bulk of the scoring as David Rutherford finished with a goal and two assists and Ondrej Roman and Judd Blackwater each notched a goal and a helper.
Blackwater’s goal put the Chiefs on the board 2 minutes and 4 seconds into the game.
Roman’s shot from the slot rebounded behind the net into the left corner, where Blackwater scored his 10th goal of the playoffs when he fired in a shot that rebounded into the net off the back of Lethbridge goalie Juha Metsola.
Less than a minute later, Mitch Wahl – planted at the left post – tapped in his fifth postseason goal when he redirected a Jared Spurgeon feed from the right point.
“Our start was effective,” Chiefs coach Bill Peters said. “We got two (goals) in the first three (shots) and we hit a post there, and I think when we hit the post we might of relaxed a little bit and thought it was going to be easy – and they dug in and showed some character there and played very well from that point on.”
Lethbridge did play better, but it was still no match for the Chiefs’ speed or feisty forecheck.
“They definitely have a good forecheck – they’re really physical. We get hit a lot,” Hurricanes captain Ben Wright said. “But we weren’t expecting an easy series. We knew we were going to come in here, we knew we were going to get hit and we knew we had to make the play under pressure, but right now it’s just not going for us.
“We’re not getting a lot of bounces, but we have to battle through.”
Lethbridge did finally catch a break in the final 30 seconds of the first when Zach Boychuk – who scored both Lethbridge goals – squeezed the puck through Chiefs goalie Dustin Tokarski’s five-hole. Minutes earlier, Boychuk drug the puck into the net with his skate and the goal was waved off.
Rutherford found an opening on the low right post and stuffed in the puck past Metsola late in the second as Spokane took a 3-1 lead, but Boychuk kept the Hurricanes close with a goal just more than a minute into the third that he swatted in out of the air.
Any momentum the goal provided was erased by Drayson Bowman 3:48 into the third period. Chiefs defenseman Justin Falk forced a turnover in the neutral zone and Mike Reddington got the puck to Bowman, who carried it into the slot and launched a bullet at Metsola. The puck flipped off the top of Metsola’s glove and into the net.
Roman scored the final goal of the night for Spokane at 9:21 on a Chiefs power play.
“We want to be a team that builds on speed, and I thought we had a lot of it tonight and it generated lots of opportunities,” Rutherford said. “We were lucky to bear down and put a couple of those in.”
The 7,815 Arena fans on hand may have watched the Chiefs’ final home game of the season, as the series now shifts north to Alberta, where the next three games in the best-of-7 series – if a fifth is necessary – will be played at Lethbridge’s Emmax Center on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
“What’s happened in Spokane we’re going to keep in Spokane,” Chiefs captain Chris Bruton said. “They have the home ice now and we have to look at that as a whole new game.”
Still, the Chiefs have all the momentum.
“I think what’s given us that momentum is our depth,” Bruton added. “We have a fourth line like (Ryan) Letts, (Curtis) Kelner and (Seth) Compton that’s working hard and playing an unselfish game.
“It just works through our lineup.”