The legs still may be a little rubbery, but the Spokane Chiefs’ spirit was not Friday night.
Kyle Beach notched two goals and an assist, and Spokane held off Seattle’s frantic comeback in a 4-2 victory Friday night at the Arena in a Western Hockey League matchup.
The contest marked the Chiefs’ first home game since Jan. 9, a stretch of eight games in which Spokane mustered three victories.
“It sucks,” Beach said, bluntly describing the team’s recent road trip. “I remember coming back from Chilliwack, I got home at 6 a.m. You play, get on a bus, drive to another city and then play that night. … I think we had six games in eight nights. It’s never any fun when you have to do that.”
The Chiefs showed no road weariness early with three goals in the first 20 minutes. Fatigue may have contibuted to the Chiefs’ aggressive play leveling off in the third period, however. Seattle pulled within 3-2 with Prab Rai’s team-leading 28th goal, but Levko Koper sealed the win for the Chiefs with an empty-netter with 4 seconds left.
The season is nearly three-quarters concluded, and teams are positioning themselves for the WHL playoffs, which include the top eight teams from each conference. Spokane has 21 games remaining, 12 at home.
Spokane pulled even with division rival Portland — a 4-3 loser at Everett on Friday — for third place in the division standings as the two teams fight for the Western Conference’s fourth seed. The top four seeds enjoy home-ice advantage in the playoffs’ first round. In one of the WHL’s deepest divisions, Tri-City has built a 12-point advantage over Spokane for first place, and second-place Everett maintains a five-point edge.
“We play Everett four more times, and those four games are going to be huge,” Beach said. “If we beat Everett and Tri-City the rest of the year, there’s no doubt we’ll be in first or second.”
Spokane needed less than 4 minutes to score their first goal against the Thunderbirds. Mitch Wahl attempted a shot that ricocheted behind the net, and the puck favorably bounced off the board to Kyle Beach. Standing just outside the crease, Beach quickly sneaked the puck into the net before Seattle goaltender Calvin Pickard adjusted.
Ninety seconds later, Anthony Bardaro slipped the puck past Pickard while falling to his back for the Chiefs’ second goal. Ryan Letts and Brady Brassart assisted on Bardaro’s tally, his third this year.
Burke Gallimore pulled Seattle within 2-1 when he ripped a shot over Reid’s right shoulder with 3 minutes left in the opening period. That margin lasted 29 seconds before Beach stole the puck on Spokane’s end and made a quick transition the other way. Once across Seattle’s blue line, Beach squeezed a shot inside the post to Pickard’s stick side for a 3-1 lead and his 32nd goal, fifth-best in the WHL.
Spokane hosts Kootenay tonight at 7 p.m.