As time expired Saturday night, the Spokane Chiefs poured onto the ice and joined goalie Dustin Tokarski at the west end and a modest celebration ensued.
The defending Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champs were only going to be doing one of two things today – making another trip across the state, or resting and making plans for a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, next weekend.
After scoring three times in the third period on their way to a 5-3 victory over Seattle in front of 5,810 fans at the Arena, the Chiefs wrapped up the first-round series with the Thunderbirds and earned themselves a day off today and a second-round, best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series with the top-seeded Vancouver Giants.
“It was a gutsy win by the boys tonight,” said Tokarski, who stood tall in net for the Chiefs – finishing with 31 saves to improve his postseason record to 4-1.
“The guys in front of me did a great job letting me see most of the shots,” he said. “They were unbelievable at clearing rebounds tonight, so it was just a really good connection with the D-men tonight.”
Drayson Bowman finished with a three-point performance on two goals – including an empty-net goal in the third period – and an assist, and Mitch Wahl recorded a goal and two assists.
After a scoreless first period, the Chiefs got goals from Bowman and captain Justin McCrae to take a 2-0 lead 13 minutes, 30 seconds into the second.
Bowman scored first at 6:29 after Wahl carried the puck from the right side of the net to the left side and fired a close-range shot at Seattle goalie Calvin Pickard. Wahl’s shot sneaked through Pickard’s five-hole, but didn’t quite have enough momentum to cross the goal line. So Bowman, who was waiting near the right post, quickly shoved in the rebound for his first goal of the night.
McCrae scored just seconds after the Chiefs’ third power-play opportunity of the night expired after Wahl tried to get a pass through to Levko Koper down low.
“He got it through, but it was just laying there and I picked it up and threw it backhand and it happened to squeak by,” McCrae explained.
Colin Jacobs scored at 15:50 in the second and the Thunderbirds kept it a one-goal game heading into the final period, but Brady Calla opened it back up for Spokane when he got control of the puck in the neutral zone and went in 1-on-1 with Pickard, going forehand to backhand before lifting the puck past Pickard 5:21 into the third.
But Seattle still didn’t give up.
Prab Rai pulled Seattle within a goal again when he scored on a Thunderbirds’ power play at 12:59. Rai, who was camping low near the left post, picked up the rebound of a Thomas Hickey shot and stuffed the puck past Tokarski.
Wahl scored a power-play goal – an opportunity Spokane earned when Seattle coach Rob Sumner was called for a game misconduct – at 14:31 to extend the Chiefs’ lead to 4-2. He picked up a smart pass from Bowman, who got Pickard to come out of the net just enough thinking he was going to shoot. Bowman instead fed Wahl just behind the right post and Wahl finished the play when he wrapped the puck around and stuffed it in the open net.
The goal proved to be the winner, because again Seattle wasn’t done scoring.
Hickey found the back of the net at 18:30 on a Seattle power play to pull the Thunderbirds within one goal with 1:30 remaining in regulation.
Seattle then pulled Pickard off the ice and skated with an extra man, but Bowman forced a turnover and took the puck to the other end of the ice before securing the victory with an empty-net goal at 19:18.
“It wasn’t the cleanest win,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said, referring to Spokane’s eight penalties throughout the game, including five in the third period. “We have to find that fine line between strong and penalized. Tonight at times I thought we didn’t make the best decisions, but at the same time we have to stick up for ourselves too, so all in all it was a pretty good effort.”
The Chiefs will travel to Vancouver for Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday. Games 3 and 4 will be in Spokane, but the dates have yet to be determined. … Spokane was 1 for 6 on the power play and killed six of eight penalties.