Generally speaking, goals are tough to come by when it comes to playoff hockey – just ask Drayson Bowman.
“That’s the playoffs for you,” Bowman offered with a smile. “You just don’t usually see a lot of goals scored.”
But difficult definitely didn’t spell impossible for Bowman on Friday night.
Bowman buried two goals and netminder Dustin Tokarski made 31 saves as the defending Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs defeated the Seattle Thunderbirds 2-1 before 5,426 fans at the Arena in the opening game of their best-of-7 Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“There were some other guys with some good looks – no doubt – but there’s no secret that Drayson is a goal scorer,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “Those guys just find a way to find the puck and then they find a way to put the puck in the net. Nobody can explain it and I’m not going to try – I’m just real happy that’s the case.”
The Thunderbirds were first to get on the scoreboard when Charles Wells scored midway through the opening period.
Greg Scott broke away from two Chiefs at the end of Spokane’s first power-play opportunity and tried to stuff the puck past Tokarski on his glove side, but Tokarski was there to stop the initial attempt with a quick kick save. But Wells was in the low slot for the rebound and scored into the open right side of the net.
“I think that was a case of early in the game our guys being overanxious,” Sauter said. “Everyone was attacking the puck carrier and they forgot that there were four other guys coming late.
“But it happened, and then at least after that on the back check I thought our guys did a real good job.”
It wasn’t until 4:21 into the second period that Bowman – who led the Chiefs in scoring through the regular season with 47 goals and 83 total points – knotted the score at 1-1.
The 19-year-old Carolina Hurricanes prospect took a pass from linemate Brady Calla in the neutral zone and made a move around Brad Haber in the slot before lifting the puck past Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard – the younger brother of Tri-City goalie Chet Pickard.
Just when it was beginning to look as if the game could be destined to go into overtime, Bowman scored the winner 11:44 into the third period.
Calla made a long pass from the right side of the offensive zone as Bowman came from the left side of the zone and cut through the middle.
Bowman took an initial backhanded shot, which Pickard saved, and then a second backhanded shot, which Pickard got a piece of again. The puck rebounded to Bowman’s skate and he kicked the puck up to his stick and threw the puck on net.
“By then (Pickard) was just too far out of the net to make a play,” Sauter said.
“It was tough,” Bowman said of the offensive efforts on the night. “It’s the playoffs and it’s tough to come by goals. It’s a battle no matter what, so if we keep putting pucks on the net I think we’ll be fine.”
Bowman and Sauter both credited Tokarski as being the difference-maker in the game.
“I think in the second period, especially he made three or four big saves for us, and without those it’s probably 4-1 them,” Sauter said. “But he made them and gave us a chance to score the second goal and win the game.”
Tokarski also made two huge saves in the third period – once near the beginning of the period when he stopped Jim O’Brien’s breakaway after a Chiefs’ defenseman turned the puck over in the defensive zone, and again about 6 minutes into the period when he stopped Jonathan Parker’s forehand-to-backhand shot from the low slot.
“He played great I thought,” Bowman said. “He made a couple of huge key saves that saved the game for us.”
The Chiefs and Thunderbirds meet again tonight for Game 2 before the series shifts to Kent for Games 3 and 4.
“They play really well at home, so going back into their barn with a 2-0 lead is really important to us,” said Chiefs forward Tyler Johnson.