Three things are certain in life – death and taxes being the first two.
In the case of which of the past two Memorial Cup champions will continue their Western Hockey League playoff quest, a verdict is also guaranteed. And the decision is quickly approaching.
The Spokane Chiefs – last season’s Ed Chynoweth Cup winners after sweeping Lethbridge in the WHL final and subsequent Memorial Cup champions after upending the tournament-host Kitchener Rangers – will hit the road to take on the top-seeded Vancouver Giants tonight.
It is the seventh installment of a thrilling best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series that began two Fridays ago at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The winner will earn a spot in the Western Conference championship series opposite the third-seeded Kelowna Rockets, who knocked off the U.S. Division champion and second-seeded Tri-City Americans on Sunday. Kelowna won the series 4-2.
So even if Spokane wins tonight, there will be no rematch of last year’s Western Conference final between the heated rivals that went the distance. Five games in the series went to overtime, three extended into double-overtime and two of the double-overtime games ended with a score of 1-0.
The Chiefs-Giants series has been a special one to watch, too.
The Giants, who lost only 10 regulation games during the 72-game regular season, were regarded as strong favorites to defeat Spokane. It looked as though the predictions were coming true after Vancouver won the first two games on its home ice.
“I think people kind of wrote us off after that, and figured we were dead,” Chiefs goalie Dustin Tokarski said after Sunday’s game.
Then the tide turned, and Spokane won the next two games at home – first a 5-2 victory last Tuesday and then a 1-0 shutout on Wednesday – to even the series at 2-2.
Spokane’s major momentum shift peaked last Friday when the Chiefs won Game 5 in quadruple overtime in the second longest game in league history.
Faced with a win-or-go-home scenario, the Giants survived Sunday night’s sixth game by winning 3-2 in double overtime at the Arena – forcing tonight’s deciding game.
“Obviously, you can’t underestimate any teams in this league, which goes for us, too,” Tokarski said. “We didn’t think that because we won Game 5 that we were automatically going to win Sunday.”
Perhaps the most surprising part of Sunday’s loss – besides the fact an apparent Vancouver goal early in the first overtime was waived off because the ref blew the whistle before the puck crossed the goal line – was the fact the Chiefs had many quality scoring chances during the 60 minutes of regulation.
There were sharp passes being made in Vancouver’s zone, a handful of looks from the low slot and open looks from the circles. There were four power-play opportunities. There were even a pair of shots that hit posts.
“We certainly felt like the opportunities were there,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said following the Game 6 loss. “The guys did a good job of creating chances. Some nights you get rewarded for that, and some nights you don’t. The only thing left to do, really, is get on with it and play Game 7.”
The Scotty Munro Trophy winners for the best overall record during the regular season – the Calgary Hitmen – and the third-seeded Brandon Wheat Kings, who finished second in the East Division with 101 points, are playing the Eastern Conference championship series. … Tonight’s Spokane-Vancouver game, which begins at 7, will be televised on Comcast channel 79.