Depleted by game misconducts, the Spokane Chiefs left their 5-2 loss to the Tri-City Americans on Saturday with a pair of problems more troubling than the defeat itself.
With eight games to go, the Chiefs trail their rival by 10 points in the U.S. Division standings. And, as they press toward the playoffs, they may be forced to play without some players who could face suspensions for fighting.
“We play this team 12 times, and stuff is bound to happen,” said Spokane’s Tyler Johnson, who stayed clear of the melees. “We don’t like to lose, and we wanted to send a message.”
Most members of the sold-out Arena crowd were still on hand to watch as the teams combined for 21 game misconducts, all of which were earned when the score was 5-1. By game’s end, neither team had enough available skaters to make a complete line change, and the Americans were down to one healthy goalie thanks to an injury to starter Chet Pickard during the first eight-player brawl – yes, there were two of them – midway through the third period.
“The league will review it,” Spokane coach Hardy Sauter said. “We’ll have to see what they say.”
Even with the shortage of players, the Chiefs (41-20-0-3) and Ams (46-16-0-3) had enough pent-up hostility to nearly start two more fights with 15.3 seconds left in the game.
Drayson Bowman was one of the few players left in the waning minutes. It was then that he scored his team-leading 40th goal of the season to make it 5-2.
But some time before that, the Ams played opportunistic, dominant hockey in handing the Chiefs their first home loss against Tri-City this season. They scored three power-play goals against the Chiefs’ penalty-killing unit, which came in at a league-best 88.6 percent.
“Our penalties killed us,” said Mitch Wahl, who was in the box for two Tri-City goals in the second period. “But if we stay out of the box I think we’re fine against these guys.”
Johnson gave the Chiefs their first goal of the night on an even-strength breakaway through the gut of the Ams’ defense. Still, Tri-City carried a 2-1 lead after the first period, and Spokane’s penalty-killing unit cost the team a pair of quick goals in the second period.
Seven seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage, Tri-City’s Tyler Schmidt scored on a long slap shot, and Mitch Fadden added another goal, his second of the game, at 12:20.
Less than two minutes later, a kneeling Kruise Reddick flicked in a rebound for his second goal of the contest and the Americans’ third in a span of 3:03.
Suddenly, the Chiefs trailed 5-1 heading into the second intermission. The fights started soon after, and the two teams accomplished the rather impressive feat of logging more fights than they did in Spokane’s 5-2 win over Tri-City last month at the Arena.
The Ams’ victory was their eighth straight; the loss was the Chiefs’ fourth in six games.
Any potential suspensions certainly could prove costly for the Chiefs, who now embark on a four-game road trip that includes a stop in Seattle and an excursion across the Canadian border to Kelowna and Prince George. They have a home-and-home with the Ams on March 13 and 14 to close out their season series.
“We might have a couple guys out of the lineup for the coming games,” Johnson said, “but at the same time they were showing emotion, and we can’t be mad about it.”