That cushy two-game lead the Spokane Chiefs held over Portland just a few days back is history; vaporized on Friday night by another unproductive offensive effort that resulted in a 4-2 loss to the Winterhawks in front of a disappointed Arena crowd of 5,718.
And now the Chiefs find themselves tied 2-2 and in desperate need of win at home Saturday in Game 5 of their best-of-seven first-round Western Hockey League playoff series against Portland, which used a pair of goals from Chris Francis and some solid goaltending from Mac Carruth to run its record in the Arena to 6-0 this season.
“Obviously, we didn’t want this to happen,” said Tyler Johnson, who had a goal and an assist for the Chiefs, who were beaten by the Winterhawks 2-1 on Wednesday. “But at the same time, we knew it was a possibility. Portland is a great team, they work really hard and they beat us in the season series, so we knew we were going to have to battle.
“And that’s what we’ve got to do again tomorrow night.”
The Chiefs were much more active, offensively, than they were in Wednesday’s loss, but couldn’t solve Carruth, who not only turned back 29 shots but also assisted on two of Portland’s goals.
“Defensively, we had a couple of breakdowns in that first period,” admitted Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter. “But offensively, I thought we generated a few more chances that in the previous game. We just need to find a way to score more goals.
“I thought we were close tonight, but, obviously, we need to get better in that area.”
Trailing 4-1, early in the third period, the Chiefs appeared poised to claw their way back into the game when Kyle Beach punched home a goal just six seconds into a 5-minute power player resulting from a game misconduct penalty on Portland’s Tayler Jordan for charging Spokane goaltender James Reid.
But after scoring that quick goal, the Chiefs came up empty the rest of the way, despite getting a couple of good scoring opportunities.
“Obviously, we were excited to get that second goal and basically still have five minutes to work with on the power play,” Sauter said. “But their penalty killers did a good job, and we were never really able to generate more than a couple of chances.”
According to Johnson, he and his teammates were expecting much bigger things from their prolonged five-on-four advantage.
“We thought we were going to get back in the game right there,” he explained, ‘but we didn’t do a lot of the things we normally do in that situation, and it really cost us. I felt like we had some quality chances, but we still need to do a better job of getting the puck in the net.”
Both teams scored power-play goals in the second period, and the Chiefs desperately needed theirs after a 4-minute high-sticking penalty on Jared Cowen helped free Francis up for his second goal at the 7:26 mark to give Portland a 3-0 lead.
Spokane’s answer came a few minutes later when Johnson took a nifty pass from teammate Levko Koper directly to the right of the Winterhawks’ goal and bumped the puck past Carruth.
Portland jumped on the Chiefs early, scoring a pair of first-period goals. The first came just a little over six minutes in, when Luke Walker, standing unchecked just to the right of Spokane’s net, took a short pass from Oliver Gabriel and directed it past Reid, who was focused on Gabriel just to the left of the crease.
The Winterhawks second goal came a little over six minutes later, when Francis snapped a wrist shot past Reid from just inside the left faceoff circle, prompting Sauter to yank his starting goaltender in favor of Tadjdeh for the rest of the period.
Reid returned following the first intermission and finished in net for the Chiefs, turning away 23 shots.