Sooner or later, the Spokane Chiefs have to win a home game against the Portland Winterhawks.
Well, sooner is here, as in now or never for this season.
The Chiefs and Winterhawks have reached the final game of their best-of-7 Western Hockey League series. To say it’s been a strange 10 days is an understatement.
Defying all logic – especially in a No. 4-vs.-5 matchup in hockey in which the home team gets to change lines after the opponent – this has been a visitor-take-all series.
“I don’t think anybody in sports could explain this,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s a weird situation when the road team wins all the games. I’ve never seen it before in any series I’ve ever watched. It’s sort of unique.”
Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said the same thing, with a caveat: “I guess now the pressure is on them to win that last road game.”
But he still didn’t want to stay in Portland for tonight’s deciding game.
“We worked all year to have home-ice advantage,” Sauter said. “Although this series has been freaky, to say the least, we believe deep down home ice is going to count.”
The Winterhawks haven’t just won their three playoff games here. They’re also 7-0 at the Arena this season.
“I truly believe when you’re on the road you play that gritty style and when you’re at home you always try to do things a little more perfect,” Chiefs forward Tyler Johnson said. “In the playoffs, you have to play gritty.”
Although Portland only had 19 wins last year and hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2006, the Chiefs said the Winterhawks deserve a lot of credit.
“They’re a big team and they work really hard,” Johnson said. “They like to put a body on you, and over a series that wears you down a little bit. It’s something you have to give right back at them. You have to work just as hard. If you match their work ethic, you have a good chance to win.”
Game 6 is the only time the Chiefs scored first in the series. They believe a quick start tonight could ratchet up the pressure on the Winterhawks.
“We know we have to come out and have a fast start,” defenseman Brenden Kitchton said. “They’ve had our number at home, I’m not sure why. It’s definitely interesting – win three on the road, lose three at home. It’s kind of weird.”
“Weird” is as good an explanation as any for this series, in which the home coach gets the final say in matchups and has nothing to show for it.
“We don’t try to focus on matchups too much,” Chiefs defenseman Brett Bartman said. “We roll the lines. We believe all our players can play against all their players.
“I don’t think it’s the fact we’re at home or on the road, I think it was just situations.”
“It’s not so much the matchups as much as a bounce or a play,” he said. “Both teams have good players, both teams are capable of winning a shift at any time. It seems like the team that can win the most shifts has seemed to take control of the game. For whatever reason, at home we haven’t won enough shifts.
“(In Portland) we’ve had various matchups and won most. In our building we’ve had almost carbon copies (of matchups) and it’s not that we lose (shifts), we don’t win them. … We’re going to have to change that around.”
This is the 10th time the Chiefs have had a winner-take-all game and fifth against Portland. The Chiefs are 5-4 in those games and won the last one at home, which was in 2003 against the Winterhawks.
“All year long as a coach you put faith in your guys,” Sauter said. “If you don’t have faith in your players at this point you’re in big, big trouble. I believe our guys are going to play well, play hard, execute and win Game 7.”