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Chiefs dispatch Chilliwack to take 3-1 lead in WHL series

Spokane’s Corbin Baldwin checks Chilliwack’s Curt Gogol into the boards during the first period Thursday. (Colin Mulvany)
Spokane’s Corbin Baldwin checks Chilliwack’s Curt Gogol into the boards during the first period Thursday. (Colin Mulvany)

Déjà vu?

Not quite, but it did get a little dicey for the Spokane Chiefs and the 5,016 fans at the Arena Thursday night.

After building a 3-0 lead in the first period, the Chiefs again let off the throttle, but this time, when Chilliwack clawed back within one goal early in the third period, the Chiefs clamped down on the Bruins.

With an empty-net goal in the final minute, the Chiefs held on for a 4-2 win to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series. Game 5 is at the Arena Saturday night.

“We’re motivated, I’ll tell you that much,” Spokane forward Blake Gal said. “We don’t want to get on the bus Saturday and go back to Chilliwack.”

Gal was out of the lineup because of illness Wednesday when the Chiefs collapsed, allowing the Bruins three goals in the third period before Kevin Sundher won the game 3:40 into overtime.

“It was pretty hard to watch a 3-0 lead go away and us losing in overtime,” Gal said. “I thought we came back tonight and did what we had to do. When we got our lead we decided to keep going, and when they got their two goals we buckled down. We didn’t give them a chance to get a third one.”

The Chiefs were outstanding in the first period, pressing the issue from the start. They had a 21-4 shots advantage to go with 3-0 lead, but after that the Bruins battled them evenly.

“We got away from what we were doing in the first. They picked up the tempo,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “It was back and forth, but obviously we didn’t spend as much time in their end as we did the first period, but it worked out.

“We had a depleted lineup, too.”

The Chiefs played without leading scorer Tyler Johnson, who was laid out by defenseman Tyler Stahl late in the second period of the Game 3 loss. Johnson did not play in the third period or overtime. Stahl, who received a 5-minute major and game misconduct, was suspended for Thursday’s game.

Spokane was also without Anthony Bardaro, who was suspended for an overtime hit that was not penalized.

But one person’s misfortunate is another’s opportunity and it was seldom-used forward Malek Kalus who jump-started the offense. In the lineup because of the Bardaro suspension, Kalus scored just 2:40 into the game. He had just four goals in 22 games.

“I was excited,” the rookie from Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, said. “It felt great.”

Brenden Kichton made it 2-0 at 5:20, by sitting on the doorstep until Steve Kuhn delivered the puck during a 4-on-4.

The final goal, by fourth-line center Mike Aviani, was spectacular. He skated down the right wall and cut across to the left corner of the net before stuffing the puck in at 17:51.

But like the previous night, the Chiefs couldn’t put on the finishing touches. They got outshot 11-9 in the second period and the Bruins got the only goal, a rocket from the left point by Brandon Manning midway through.

Early in the third period, the Bruins won a faceoff in the Spokane end and the puck was flipped to the front of the net. When it hit the ice, Roman Horak was there to knock it past James Reid.

From there, Chilliwack just got four more shots.

“I don’t think we gave them a bunch,” Nachbaur said. “We gave them a couple of flurries around the net, but we didn’t make any glaring errors off the rush. I just thought we buckled down defensively. We were better without the puck.”

Chilliwack pulled goalie Lucas Gore, who made 35 saves, with 1:41 to play. After one flurry, the Chiefs kept the puck away. Dominik Uher stole it from the Bruins in their end and got it out front to Kuhn for an empty-netter with 49 seconds to go.

“They’re a good team,” Gal said. “They work hard and it’s tough to get anything going against them. Give them a lot of credit.”

Game 1: Chiefs 3, Bruins 2 (OT)
Game 2: Chiefs 5, Bruins 0
Game 3: Bruins 4, Chiefs 3 (OT)
Game 4: Chiefs 4, Bruins 2
Spokane leads series 3-1
Saturday at Spokane, 7
Sunday*at Chilliwack, 5
Tuesday* at Spokane, 7