The Spokane Chiefs played a great game of hockey over the weekend, which was enough to give them a 2-0 lead as their best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series with Portland comes to the Arena.
The Chiefs rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period of Saturday’s opener for a 5-4 win, and then controlled the final two periods on Sunday for a 4-2 win.
Spokane coach Hardy Sauter called the third period of the first game very good and the final two periods on Sunday very, very solid.
“Coming away with two wins is great,” he said. “I can honestly say as a group we weren’t overly happy with our game in Game 1. We rebounded (and) Game 2 was real solid as road games go.”
He doesn’t expect his team to coast with the next three games in Spokane, beginning tonight, as the Chiefs regain the home-ice advantage they earned during the regular season.
“Being down two goals twice in Game 1 and coming back showed a lot of maturity, probably because of our experience in playoffs,” Sauter said. “I’ll go right back to that.
“Our guys know how important every win is and how hard it is to get a win in the playoffs. I don’t foresee us making the mistake of being overconfident coming back home.”
Portland, which improved by 48 points over last season to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, only has two players who have appeared in the postseason.
A key for Spokane has been the play of the third line, Steve Kuhn between Kenton Miller and Matt Marantz. Kuhn’s goal started the third period comeback in the opener; Miller had a pair of goals, including the game-winner, on Sunday.
“The last two months they’ve created lots of chances and for whatever reason not been able to finish,” Sauter said. “Last weekend they created the same opportunities and were able to finish a few. I’m really happy for them. Their hard work is paying off.
“The good thing is nobody really surprised me. It may be a bit surprising they scored as many goals in the last two games as they have but we always thought they were capable. Hopefully they’ve found a rhythm they can continue to play with.”
Not surprising at all is Kyle Beach contributing two goals in the comeback, except that the league’s leading scorer (52 goals) was hurt a week earlier and on crutches, questionable until game day.
“That was a pretty gutsy effort on his part,” Sauter said. “They ran at him a little bit so good for him to stay in there and eventually get us the game winner. Game 2 you could definitely tell he had been off the ice for a while but he found some other ways to help us out.”
Meanwhile, forward Ryan Letts, who also suffered a knee injury the day after Beach’s, remains questionable for tonight’s game.
“We had a lot of things go well,” Sauter said. “We had some guys step up and play minutes they’re not normally asked to do, scoring from guys not who are normally scoring. We just had a big effort from a lot of guys.”
Game 4 is Friday with Game 5, if necessary, Saturday.