The Spokane Chiefs knew they had two important opportunities on Tuesday and Wednesday night. As it turned out, they had no problem seizing both of them.
After dropping the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Vancouver Giants on the road, the defending Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion Chiefs pulled even in the series with two victories on home ice earlier this week. In doing so, they earned another important opportunity.
The Chiefs have a chance to take their first lead of the series when they take the ice tonight at 7 against the Giants at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum for the fifth game of the best-of-7 series – which is now essentially a best-of-3 series since each team has two wins.
“I think we have a lot of confidence now,” Chiefs forward Tyler Johnson said after Spokane defeated the Giants 1-0 on Wednesday night at the Arena.
Johnson’s first-period power-play goal was the lone goal of the game. Combined with 41 saves from rock-solid netminder Dustin Tokarski, it was enough to lead Spokane to victory.
“Our power play has been clicking, our penalty kill has been clicking and we’ve finally started hitting hard out there and we were able to wear them down in the last two games,” Johnson said. “We’ve been working hard, and we’ve just got to keep doing that and I think we’ll be fine.”
Another thing the Chiefs could keep doing, which could help them return to Spokane on Sunday with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to move on to the Western Conference championship against either the Tri-City Americans or Kelowna Rockets, is to keep Vancouver’s shot opportunities on the perimeter, which the Chiefs did an excellent job of doing Wednesday.
While the Giants were able to outshoot Spokane 41-18, they weren’t able to get the puck inside for a good portion of those shots. That helped Tokarski do his job and pick up just the fourth shutout for any team in the playoffs (Calgary’s Martin Jones has posted two, and Medicine Hat’s Ryan Holfeld has one.)
“I felt good out there,” Tokarski said. “The D-men, wingers and centers all did a great job of letting me see the first shot and either let me steer to the corner or if there was one laying there they cleared it out. It was just a great effort by everybody.”
Overage defenseman Trevor Glass, who came to Spokane last season in a trade-deadline deal with the Medicine Hat Tigers, has played 66 career playoff games – good for 23rd in WHL history. Glass has played 28 playoff games over the past two seasons, won two WHL titles and played in two Memorial Cup tournaments. His first league title came when Medicine Hat defeated Vancouver in seven games in 2007, but the Tigers fell to the Giants in the Memorial Cup championship game. Glass won the Ed Chynoweth Cup and Memorial Cup with the Chiefs last year. … Chiefs forward Drayson Bowman is tied with five players for the second-highest total of playoff goals with seven. Medicine Hat’s Tyler Ennis is first with eight goals.