On to Plan B.
With no less than a tie for first-place and at best the top-seed in the Western Conference for the Western Hockey League season the Spokane Chiefs fell flat, dropping a 4-3 decision to rival Tri-City before a sold-out crowd of 10,528 at the Arena Friday night.
Now, after failing to capitalize on the momentum of three-straight wins, including an impressive 5-2 decision on Tuesday, the Chiefs go to Tri-City tonight still trying to make sure they don’t fall to the No. 5 seed.
“That’s part of the trick,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “This is where you have to look at the standings and go into tomorrow’s game and say there’s still a chance, for whatever. You hope your guys respond, hope they have a short memory.”
The way the playoff chase looks now, Tri-City (47-21-1-2, 97 points) is in control of its own fate and clinches top seed by finishing their season with a win over the Chiefs.
“We’ve had a couple stumbles in the last few weeks,” Americans coach Jim Hiller said. “It’s difficult to see us lose important points but I haven’t been prouder of the team after a game than I am tonight. It’s a great team in a tough building. They showed a lot of character tonight.”
Spokane (43-21-3-2, 91) needs a point tonight or Sunday when Everett visits the Arena for the final game to clinch the fourth seed and home-ice advantage for the first round ahead of Portland (43-25-2-1, 89).
Everett (45-25-2-1, 95) can claim the No. 3 with a win over visiting Chilliwack tonight with top-seed still a possibility.
B.C. Division winner Vancouver is locked into the second-seed.
The Chiefs never led but seemed to be in great position to pull out the game when Tyler Johnson scored a power play goal at 5:33 of the third period to tie the game. But with just 7:37 remaining, Jordan Messier, while falling to the ice, swept the puck past Spokane goalie James Reid for the game winner.
“They were getting shots through from the point the entire game,” Chiefs captain Jared Cowen said. “We’ve got to figure out why. It was blocked and he dived for it and got a goal.
“We’ve lost games before like this, obviously not this important, but we’ve always come back and played well.”
Of course an Americans-Chiefs game couldn’t end without a little excitement. Tri-Cities took a penalty with 1:34 left and Reid was pulled with 50 seconds left but there was no magic. Plus Brendan Shinnimin of the Americans took a stick in the mouth at the buzzer that led to a couple of skirmishes.
Neither coach saw what happened but a number of penalties were assessed.
“It’s just water under the bridge as far as we’re concerned,” Sauter said, looking at the ramifications on tonight’s game, which is a sell-out.
The difference in this game was special teams. Both teams got two power play goals – Brett Pflouffe and Kruise Reddick for TC; Blake Gal and Johnson for the Chiefs – but the Americans also picked up a short-handed goal by Justin Feser in the second period.
“Right off the bat we take a penalty for too many men on the ice, I don’t remember the last time that happened, and they get the power play goal and that did energize them for sure,” Sauter said. “I thought we did a good job of getting it back.”
But that goal at 5:28 of the first period set the tone for the Americans, who had lost five straight to the Chiefs.
“Look at the standings, that’s the first thing you can point to,” Hiller said. “The second thing is the last couple of times we were in this building we’ve been trailing late and thought we put some pretty good pressure. We just wanted to bring the energy we brought late to the first period.”
However, after every TC goal the Chiefs answered, including just the second goal by defenseman Brett Bartman, until the final one.
“Any time you give up two power play goals and a short-handed you’re in trouble, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing,” Sauter said. “We blew some assignments. It wasn’t anything tricky or special they were doing. They’ve been good on the power play all year and if you miss you’re check you’re going to be in trouble.”