PORTLAND – The Spokane Chiefs lived to play another day.
Levko Koper had two goals and linemate Tyler Johnson had three assists as Spokane topped Portland 4-3 on Monday night in Game 6 of the teams’ Western Hockey League playoff series in the Rose Garden.
The win tied the best-of-7 series at 3-all and forced a decisive Game 7 in Spokane on Wednesday night. The Spokane win continued a trend of neither team being able to win on home ice.
The Chiefs had to survive a strong challenge from the Winterhawks down the stretch. Spokane goalie James Reid, who looked shaky through the first two periods, made a tremendous glove save on Luke Walker with 1:48 remaining to help preserve the win. Reid finished with 40 saves in the back-and-forth game.
Spokane changed things up in this one by starting strong and not putting itself in an early deficit. Spokane led 2-0 after one period and 4-2 after two before Portland cut the deficit to one goal early in the final period. The strong start was a welcome change to Spokane Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter.
“I think it did (make a difference),” said Sauter. “Not only that we scored, but who scored the goals really mattered. We were desperate, we were playing for our lives, and are just happy for the opportunity to play a game seven.”
Kyle Beach opened the scoring for Spokane, at the 5:54 of the first period, beating Portland goalie Mac Carruth from the left circle on a power play. Beach’s shot went low to stick side past Carruth, who never saw the puck as he was screened by Chiefs defenseman Jared Cowen.
The Chiefs extended their lead to 2-0 at the 11:11 mark of the first when Koper scored just after Johnson won a face-off in the Portland zone. Koper’s initial shot was turned away, but Johnson corralled the loose puck behind the net and fed it back to Koper between the circles. Koper banked it in off the far-side bar.
In the second period, Portland twice cut Spokane’s lead to one goal, but each time the Chiefs responded to maintain their two-goal lead.
Portland first cut the deficit to 2-1 at the 4:21 mark when Troy Ruttkowski shot the puck through the back of the Spokane net while his team was on the power play. The goal was initially waved off, but allowed after an officials’ review.
Spokane would answer just 1 minute, 40 seconds later, when Kenton Miller got his third goal of the playoffs by beating Carruth low to the stick side to make it 3-1.
The Winterhawks again cut the deficit to a goal on a Walker one-timer from the left slot at 10:36 on a perfect back-handed feed from the far post by Chris Francis.
However, Johnson and Koper would team up to answer for Spokane again less than two minutes later. The pair broke out on a 2-on-1 during 4-on-4 play, Johnson drawing the defenseman all the way down to the ice as he tried to prevent a pass. Johnson slid it between the skates of the defender and Koper put in the one-timer to make it 4-2.
Portland would again cut it to a one-goal margin, to 4-3 at the 6:36 mark of the third, when Ryan Johansen’s goal-line pass was misplayed by a Spokane defenseman and bounced out to Nino Niederreiter in the slot for a one-timer. The goal energized the Rose Garden crowd of 6,101 and set up the taut finish.