The final weekend of the Western Hockey League season couldn’t be any more intriguing for the Spokane Chiefs if it had been scripted.
The Chiefs play four games, three at home, beginning tonight with a visit from Kelowna. A home-and-home follows with rival Tri-City with the first game at the Arena on Friday. The season ends with Everett coming in on Sunday.
A bit of suspense ended in Seattle on Saturday when Kyle Beach notched his league-leading 50th and 51st goals, the first Chief to hit that milestone since Ryan Duthie had 57 in 1993-94.
Meanwhile, every seed in the Western Division playoffs is up for grabs except No. 2, which belongs to B.C. Division champion Vancouver.
“Our mindset has been a certain way for a better part of a month-and-a-half,” Spokane coach Hardy Sauter said. “It’s been working for us, no need to change now.
“There’s no way to predict how it’s all going to play out. It does make it easier to win your games and take care of your own spot and let everything shake itself out.”
Tri-City and Everett are tied at the top of the U.S. Division, which will produce the top seed, at 91 points with Spokane four points back and four points ahead of Portland. Kelowna, Kamloops and Chilliwack are still jockeying in the final three spots.
If the Chiefs win out they’ll catch Tri-City but need help against Everett.
With four wins and another Everett loss, the Chiefs and Silvertips would end up tied for first. The first tie-breaker is wins, which would be 46 for both. Next is head-to-head, which favors Everett. Spokane and Tri-City could end up tied for second, also with 46 wins each, with the Chiefs holding a tiebreaker. Going into the weekend, Spokane has five straight wins over the Americans and leads the season series 7-3.
“Two months ago we were on the outside looking in, for sure, now all of a sudden we have an opportunity again to catch some teams in our division,” Sauter said. “Whether we get the help we need with Everett, I still expect our guys to take care of our games and finish as high as possible.”
The Chiefs have not had back-to-back losses since late January. They put together a seven-game winning streak in February and have sandwiched consecutive wins around a shootout loss in their last five games.
The loss was in Kelowna last Wednesday and Sauter was happy to get the one point even if the Rockets are 17 points behind the Chiefs and a potential first-round opponent.
“I’m a bit of a realist,” he said. “Going into Kelowna, any time you can take points out of there it’s a huge success. Last year’s league champions, a team that had some injuries and is now reasonably healthy. They’re just too good of a team to go in there thinking you’re going to win just because you show up. I looked at the point we got there as a bonus point.
“Obviously, them coming into our building I expect us to do what it takes to win the game.”