KENNEWICK – The Spokane Chiefs blinked.
Or maybe flinched.
Defenseman Tyler Schmidt spun around after keeping the puck in at the blue line and fired a high shot through a crowd that ended up at the back of the net, possibly saving the Tri-City Americans’ season with a 4-3 win over the Chiefs.
The goal at 2:32 into the second overtime before a crowd of 3,888 at the Toyota Center, evened the best-of-7 Western Hockey League series 2-2 with Game 5 back here Sunday night.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “It would have been a lot different series if we would have scored that goal. Now it’s a series, best-of-3.”
The Chiefs had plenty of chances with 50 shots, but they weren’t facing the same desperate situation the Americans were and it showed.
After taking a 2-0 lead early in the second period, the Chiefs gave up three straight goals to trail 3-2 entering the third period. Tyler Johnson’s power-play goal with 7:43 in regulation forced the overtime.
“That was water under the bridge,” Nachbaur said of coughing up the lead. “We had it in overtime, double overtime. It came down to a testament of character and will.
“They were blocking everything and we didn’t do that on the game-winning goal. Guys didn’t pay the price. You want to go on to the next round, you’ve got to pay the price. Plain and simple.
Schmidt’s shot was the only one in overtime and gave Tri-City 50.
“It felt good to get that overtime winner,” said Schmidt, who sat out Spokane’s 4-1 win on Tuesday because of a suspension. “I’ve never had one before in my career. I got lucky at the end. We needed this win.”
Spokane goalie James Reid had prolonged the game when he stopped Brendan Shinnimin on a penalty shot with less than 2 minutes to go in the first overtime.
“We’ve played well this series, with maybe exception of the second period tonight,” Nachbaur said. “We had our chances.”
The Chiefs took a 1-0 lead late in the first period when Dominik Uher, after being denied by Drew Owsley, got the puck at the end board and out to Steve Kuhn for a power-play goal.
Then some hard work by Jared Cowen and hustle and persistence from Johnson produced a short-handed goal 5 minutes into the second period. But when the Chiefs couldn’t kill off that power play, things kind of fell apart.
“A 2-0 lead is a lot in the playoffs,” Cowen said. “Maybe we got too excited to score goals after that second goal instead of playing defense. We forgot about playing defense and they shoved it right back at us. It was a boost for them.”
Patrick Holland had a wide-open net for a goal 4 seconds before the end of the Kuhn penalty, which was necessary because the Ams had a 2-on-1.
Kruise Reddick tied it at 10:58 on a play that started when the puck went through Corbin Baldwin’s legs at the Spokane blue line and the Americans hustled deep, where Carter Ashton got the puck out front.
When the Chiefs took their third penalty of the period, Owsley saved the game when he robbed Johnson on a short-handed breakaway. After Shinnimin one-timed the go-ahead goal from the left circle at 16:32, Owsley robbed Uher by getting his stick down and across ice to block a rebound.
The Americans outshot the Chiefs 15-9, the first time since getting 11 shots in the first period of the series that Tri-City reached double figures.
“We let up,” Nachbaur said. “The first six minutes of the second period we had momentum and we gave it up. After we scored that short-hander, we got a little bit lazy and it cost us.”
“I thought we came out kind of flat, too much time in our own end,” Cowan said. “Obviously, you can’t score goals if you’re playing defense the whole time. In overtime both teams were pretty tired. We just made a mistake at the end and obviously it cost us.”