As time wound down in the third period Wednesday night, Dustin Tokarski’s workload only increased.
The Spokane Chiefs goalie, trying to protect a one-goal lead with five minutes remaining in the game, faced a Vancouver Giants onslaught as the defending Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion Chiefs found themselves on the penalty kill for the first time in the game.
As time expired it became official – one goal, one goalie, and one hard-working group of penalty killers as the Chiefs pulled even in their Western Conference semifinal series with the Vancouver Giants with a 1-0 victory in front of 4,838 fans at the Arena.
Tokarski stopped 41 shots in the victory, and Liberty Lake native Tyler Johnson scored the lone goal on a power play in the first period.
With the win the Chiefs forced at least a sixth game in the best-of-7 series – now essentially a best-of-3 as the series is tied 2-2. Game 5 will be played Friday night at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia, before returning to Spokane for Game 6 on Sunday night.
“We looked at this as a must-win game,” Chiefs forward Drayson Bowman said.
It was a must-win game that, in the end, came down to Johnson’s goal.
After two inside looks on Vancouver’s net in the first half of the opening period, Johnson finally put Spokane on the board with a power-play goal at the 12 minute, 31 second mark.
With 10 seconds remaining on the power play – which Vancouver gave to Spokane after being caught with too many men on the ice – Chiefs defenseman Brett Bartman passed the puck from inside the offensive blue line to the bottom of the left circle, where Johnson quickly fired a shot at Giants goalie Tyson Sexsmith.
Much to Johnson’s surprise – and delight – the puck somehow snuck into the net.
“We saw on video that we might have an opening from there,” Johnson said, “but I was really just trying to get a puck on net and let (Levko) Koper bang away at it. But I guess he didn’t have to.”
What the Chiefs did have to do was stop a Vancouver onslaught – 15 shots in the second period and 18 in the third – and kill two penalties – a 4-on-3 and 5-on-3 – in the final 5 minutes of the game.
The Chiefs, who skated penalty-free until 14:43 in the third period, earned their fourth power-play opportunity of the night on a James Henry hooking penalty only to lose the advantage 34 seconds later when Ondrej Roman was called for interference. Skating 4-on-4, Bartman took a cross checking penalty and the tables officially turned in the Giants’ favor.
But the Giants weren’t able to get anything past Tokarski on their advantages.
“They put up a lot of shots, but they didn’t get a lot of clean looks,” Bowman said. “Our penalty killers kept them outside and that definitely helped us win the game. They stayed in the shooting lanes and just pushed from the outside to make it a little tougher on them and help Tokarski stop some more pucks from the outside.
“And Tokarski obviously played a great game for us and really kept us in it.”
Sexsmith finished with 17 saves as the Giants limited Spokane’s shot total for a second straight night.
“They’re two of the top goalies in the league,” Vancouver coach Don Hay said. “They both know how to win games for their teams and you just have to continue to find ways to outwork the opposition’s goalie and you can’t get discouraged.”
The Chiefs are definitely encouraged as the series shifts back to Vancouver.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum now, we’re playing good hockey,” Bowman concluded. “Everybody’s on top of their game.”