Special teams pace Chiefs to rout of Seattle
Short-handed, power-play goals spur win
KENT, Wash. – What’s wrong with the penalty-kill half of the Spokane Chiefs’ special teams?
They were 2 for 2 with the man advantage but “only” picked up two goals in six “opportunities” while a man down.
Those special special teams led to a 5-1 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds on Tuesday night after the teams split a pair of tight 2-1 games in Spokane to open their Western Hockey League playoff series.
The win, before 3,050 fans, gave Spokane a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference series with Game 4 back at the ShoWare Center tonight.
“I think tonight our penalty kill did an exceptional job, not only keeping pucks out of the net but scoring two short-handed goals as well,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “You don’t expect that to happen, to score two in a game is a rarity. Our guys capitalized on opportunities when they presented themselves.”
The power play was just as critical.
“It’s something we saw through video,” center Tyler Johnson said. “It was something the coach showed us and it worked. I don’t know if it’s top secret, it’s just moving the puck faster, more efficient, look for the shots. If you get a shot through it has a chance to go in.”
The power play clicked first. Stefan Ulmer broke a 1-1 tie with a goal just 8 seconds after the start of a power play and Levko Koper made it 3-1 with a short-handed goal two minutes later.
“The goal that gave us a sense of confidence was Ulmer’s,” Sauter said. “Our power play had gotten some good looks the previous two games but hadn’t been able to score. For that puck to go in, it was almost as if a weight was lifted off our shoulders. The guys were just relieved and we could just play.”
That completed a three-goal rally in the last six minutes of the period, started by a Johnson goal after Colin Jacobs had put the T-Birds on top 1-0 at the 7:13 mark.
“I don’t know if worried is the word,” Sauter said after Seattle scored the initial goal for the third straight game. “Definitely we haven’t been scoring at will, so for them to score you never know what that’s going to do. I wasn’t so much worried about us as I was about their confidence. Our guys handled it real well.”
Johnson cleaned up after Mitch Wahl was double-teamed between the circles. Johnson, following the play, gobbled up the loose puck just outside the crease and went backhand to beat Calvin Pickard at 14:20.
Defenseman Trevor Glass, in his first game back from injury, found Ulmer alone in the right circle for the power-play goal. For the short-handed goal, Johnson didn’t get much steam on an attempted clear from beside his net, but the bouncing puck eluded a Seattle defenseman and Koper gathered it in just outside the blue line and turned it into a breakaway.
“We were buying into the system of getting pucks to the net,” Koper said. “We were just going to keep on doing the same thing we were doing and working on. Their goalie played a couple great games in Spokane. We were feeling a little snake-bit here and there. Today it just went in for us.”
Koper added a power-play goal at 5:53 of the second period when he found a wide-open net from the right circle after Glass threw the puck toward the goal from the left point and it ricocheted to the right side.
Johnson followed with the play of the game that led to a short-handed goal at 16:51. The play was set up when he took the puck away from first-round NHL draft pick Thomas Hickey.
“I didn’t expect it, that’s for sure,” the Central Valley product said.
The T-Birds had been pressuring well on the power play when Johnson stole the puck at the blue line. He outskated Hickey and fired just wide as he bore in on Pickard and drew a delayed penalty on the Los Angeles Kings prospect. Before the T-Birds could touch up the loose puck, Koper found Johnson out front and he moved the puck on to Jared Spurgeon, although the official scorer gave credit to Johnson.
“That’s a very good play against an extremely good player,” Sauter said. “That just shows you the character that Tyler has. He almost outwilled him on that particular play. That’s the kind of effort that it’s going to take for us to go deep in the playoffs like we hope to.”
Chiefs 5, Thunderbirds 1
First Period—1, Seattle, Jacobs 1 (Scott, Rai), 7:13. 2, Spokane, Johnson 1 (Wahl, Koper), 14:10. 3, Spokane, Ulmer 1 (Glass, McCrae), 16:28 (pp). 4, Spokane, Koper 1 18:22 (sh). Second Period—5, Spokane, Koper 2 (Glass, McCrae), 5:53 (pp). 6, Spokane, Johnson 2 (Spurgeon, Koper), 16:51 (sh). Third Period—No Scoring
Power-play Opp.—Spokane 2 fo 2; Seattle 0 of 6. Saves—Spokane, Tokarski 13-8-11—32. Seattle, Pickard 6-15-8—29. A—3050.