KENNEWICK – The emotional roller coaster of hockey was never more evident than Sunday night, when the Spokane Chiefs came within a whisker of losing, only to stun the Tri-City Americans a minute later.
Blake Gal came out of the penalty box, gathered in a pass from Dominik Uher and blistered a shot from the left circle past Drew Owsley 4:52 into overtime to lift the Chiefs to a 3-2 win and 3-2 series lead over Tri-City on Sunday night at the Toyota Center.
The Americans had tied the game with 1:01 left in regulation, erasing the 2-0 lead the Chiefs held after two periods.
Then Tri-City gave the Chiefs their only power play of the night with 51 seconds to play, which meant they got to start the overtime with a man advantage. Spokane seized the momentum with five shots on goal, but couldn’t beat Owsley, who had 40 saves.
Gal took a high-sticking penalty at 2:46 of the overtime. Midway through the penalty James Reid slid to his left and whipped out his glove to rob Carter Ashton for the last of his 33 saves.
Then six seconds after the penalty it was all over.
“The team had my back,” Gal said. “I took a bad penalty.”
He wasn’t thinking goal as much as he was just hoping to keep the pressure on when he sent a low shot just inside the left post.
“I was just open,” he said. “I had to get the puck away as quick as I could and it went in.”
Tri-City forced the overtime, much to the delight of most of the 4,014 fans, when Ashton slipped the puck into the net with a minute left in regulation. The Americans had called a timeout and pulled Owsley after the Chiefs had iced the puck with 1:12 remaining. There was a scramble after the faceoff and Ashton was camped at the left post when the puck came free.
The Chiefs had lost a two-goal lead in the previous game on Thursday before falling early in the second overtime, but they didn’t get down.
“That’s playoffs,” Reid said. “I think we kind of let off a bit, trying to protect the lead. They got a few chances, they’re a talented hockey team, so you can’t let them stay around that long.”
Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said: “I don’t care. We’re up 3-2, that’s all I care about. We had a job to do coming down here with the way the series was split 2-3-2 and to win two out of three here is fabulous. I thought we played well enough to win the last one as well. We made a break tonight.”
Game 6 is in Spokane on Tuesday with Game 7, if necessary, on Wednesday. The winner of the series heads to Portland to meet the Winterhawks. Portland defeated Kelowna 4-2 Sunday night to close out that series in six games.
The Chiefs scored just 27 seconds into the opening period. Center Tyler Johnson and wingers Levko Koper and Gal started with a flurry, getting a good chance off the opening faceoff. Then the Americans turned the puck over. Johnson circled to the right circle for a shot off Owsley with the big rebound going right to Jared Cowen out front for the wide-open goal.
Spokane doubled the lead less than 5 minutes into the second period when Matt Marantz took a drop pass from Gal and, using a defenseman as a screen, fired a shot from between the circles over Owsley’s blocker.
The Americans solved Reid early in the third period when Tyler Schmidt, who had the game-winner in double overtime on Thursday, converted a three-on-two, taking a pass between the circles and going high for the goal.
“We did a good job of killing penalties and we only had one power play, which is unusual to me, but we found a way,” Nachbaur said. “They scored on a three-on-two to get them going with their first goal. That was really our first odd-man rush since the second period and we buried it. A key moment and we executed.”