Finally, a chance to get back on the road and regroup.
That might not have been exactly what the Spokane Chiefs were thinking following Saturday night’s 4-3 home loss to Portland in the first-round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
But they might want to take such twisted logic to heart in a hurry, or they’ll be bagging up the pucks on Tuesday.
Spokane’s latest setback, witnessed by an Arena crowd of 4,540, was the Chiefs’ third straight at home in this wacky best-of-seven series and left them staring at a 3-2 deficit and the possibility of elimination in Monday’s Game Six in Portland.
“We’ve dug ourselves a pretty big hole,” admitted Chiefs center Mitch Wahl, who scored one of Spokane’s three third-period goals and assisted on another. “To lose three at home, it’s unacceptable, really. The season’s on the line for sure, so we’ll need a big game (on Monday).”
The Winterhawks dominated this one throughout the first two periods by beating the Chiefs to the majority of loose pucks and doing most of the heavy hitting – or, in other words, wanting it more.
A lot more.
Riley Boychuk and Luke Walker scored first period goals for Portland, which won for the seventh time in as many trips to the Arena this year. And Ryan Johansen added a pair of goals for the Winterhawks, getting his first midway through the second period from point.
But it was Johansen’s third-period goal that proved to be the game-winner, and it resulted from a crazy bounce after a Spokane player tried to clear the puck behind his own net, only to have it carom off the boards to Johansen, who was standing directly in front of Chiefs goaltender James Reid.
“I thought we started a little bit slow again tonight,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said. “But a bad bounce off a faceoff and a bad bounce off the end wall cost us two goals. And in a series this close, that’s the difference in the hockey game.
“I was just really happy our guys fought hard to come back, and, hopefully, that will carry over into Game Six.”
It was defenseman Jared Cowen who scored Spokane’s first goal just a little over six minutes into the third. And Wahl answered Johansen good fortune with his second goal of the postseason seven minutes later, cutting Portland’s leads to 4-2.
The Chiefs mounted several other impressive charges in the final minutes, but didn’t score again until Kyle Beach wristed in his fifth postseason goal with just 40 second remaining. And the Winterhawks were able to kill the clock from there.
Still, Sauter is hoping to build on the way his team finished.
“Despite the fact that we lose the game, our guys understand now how hard we have to play and the desperation level we need to be successful,” Sauter said. “I’ve never questioned the heart or desire of our guys, so I think, regardless, we’d have gone into Game Six playing hard.
“But this third period definitely gives us some momentum and something to build on. Obviously, we need a better start than we had in previous games, and, hopefully, this is a little bit of a helping hand to get that.”
The Chiefs found themselves in an early hole once again, spotting Portland a 2-0 first period lead, despite getting three power-play chances.
The Winterhawks’ first goal came just 51 seconds in when Boychuk one-timed the puck past Reid following a faceoff in the right circle. And the second came on a scramble in front the Spokane’s net, which resulted in a power-play goal by Luke Walker.