The Spokane Chiefs aren’t where they need to be, but they took a step in that direction Sunday night.
After dropping the first game of their best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoff series to the Tri-City Americans on Saturday, the Chiefs rebounded with a solid 6-3 win before 5,026 fans at the Arena.
“They were just better than us tonight,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “We were better than them last night. We’ll see who’s better on Tuesday. You really can’t dissect it more than that.”
The next three games are at Tri-City on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and with the 3-1 win on Saturday it is the Americans holding the home ice advantage.
But at least Tri-City isn’t going home with a 2-0 lead.
“We just kind of picked up where we left off in the second and third period the first game,” Chiefs captain Jared Cowen said after contributing four assists. “We played the same style. It was that first period the first game that killed us. That’s where we lost the game. We just talked about continuing that physical game.”
The Chiefs got the start they needed on Mitch Holmberg’s first goal 5:52 into the game. He was to the right of Ams goaltender Drew Owsley and just shot the puck.
“I just kind of turned and fired and saw it trickle back there,” Holmberg said. “I was sure excited. It was really big for us. Anything early in the game is good. They’re a good team, you’ve got to bear down. I just got a lucky bounce and it was good for us.”
The Americans tied it about 10 minutes later when Jordan Messier converted a two-on-one with Mason Wilgosh, but the Ams took penalties 4 seconds apart and Holmberg had a wide-open net after a Tyler Johnson pass to make it 2-1 with a minute left in the first period.
Holmberg had two goals in the first-round clincher against Chilliwack but sat out the first game of this series.
“Right now it’s just been good,” said the 17-year old who had 15 goals in the regular season. “I’ve been confident. I’ve been in the right places and people give me good passes. I’ve just been able to put a couple in the net.”
Spokane broke it open in the second with goals by Matt Marantz, Levko Koper and Steve Kuhn. Marantz scored from the left slot when Blake Gal found him with a cross ice pass and just after the Chiefs killed off the first TC power play. Koper’s goal was just 25 seconds later and just 18 seconds after the Chiefs went on the power play.
After that the Americans pulled Owsley for Eric Comrie, their first-round bantam pick who signed Thursday. Owsley had 21 saves on 26 shots and Comrie, a 15-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta, made 13 saves, one more than Chiefs goalie James Reid.
In the third period, Tri-City got an early goal from Justin Fester and a last-minute power-play goal from Brendan Shinniman. In between the Chiefs got their third power-play goal, from Johnson, on a five-on-three.
“We feel confident,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We felt good (Saturday) last night. We don’t like to lose but we did a lot of good things, came out with some positive vibes. We had some good performances but a lot of subpar performances. A lot of guys played good tonight.
“Johnson was outstanding. Johnny would be the first say he struggled (Saturday) last night, first game back from injury. He was way more comfortable tonight. Our top end guys were way better tonight. It’s what every team needs in playoffs.”
There were a couple of dust-ups in the game that could get reviewed by the league.
“I thought it was just as physical last night,” Nachbaur said. “Maybe because the score got out of hand it got a little kooky,” Nachbaur said.
The big one was TC defenseman Tyler Schmidt getting five minutes for clipping at 7:55 of the third period plus a game misconduct.
“That’s a fine line of going over the edge or being in the right emotional place,” Cowen said. “When you’re on the edge you make the right plays. That’s what we’re doing well right now.”