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Chiefs’ amazing rally clinches series

After the tidal wave it was a blur.

That was the emotional take after the Spokane Chiefs produced one of the most amazing comebacks in their history to defeat the Tri-City Americans 5-4 Tuesday night in the Arena.

Levko Koper’s goal 6:39 into overtime shocked the crowd of 6,083 as much as the Americans. It was the third straight overtime game and the second straight the Chiefs won to win the best-of-7 Western Hockey League series 4-2.

“Most of it’s a blur,” Koper said. “I just saw a puck there and went to it. I’ll have to see a replay to see what actually happened.”

What happened is Collin Valcourt, who was going to dump the puck into the Tri-City end and leave the ice, saw he had a one-on-one opportunity. As a defenseman was riding him into the left corner he  flipped a shot at the goal. The puck bounced off goalie Drew Owsley and right to Koper, who had just jumped onto the ice and headed for the goal.

That let the Chiefs come up roses after two stinky periods. They meet Portland in the Western Conference finals, with the best-of-7 series beginning Friday in the Rose Garden.

The Americans led 3-0 after two periods with the Chiefs not even remotely in sync offensively. Not only that, their leading scorer, Tyler Johnson, was out for the game with a misconduct after taking a major penalty late in the first period for a knee-on-knee hit with Brendan Shinniman, that knocked the Tri-City leader out of the game.

“Our backs were to the wall,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “I explained to the guys it was all about character and momentum. We really provided ourselves with no momentum through the first two periods. We took a terrible penalty to put us behind the 8-ball. I think we spent a little time moping. But in the third we came out playing like we can.”

Just 76 seconds in Darren Kramer redirected a shot from the left point by Davis Vandane.

“We were first to every puck, got an early goal, built on that with a second goal and the next thing you know our crowd was in it,” Nachbaur said. “We needed that crowd. The crowd really helped us win the game tonight.”

Only 79 seconds later Tanner Mort unleashed a slap shot from the top of the right circle for his first playoff point.

“The second goal really let us know we could get back in the game,” Koper said. “We got it early so we had a lot of time to get a couple more. It was just a snowball effect.”

Then there was a strange twist. There was a scramble around the T-C goal when suddenly the goal light went on while the referee was waving no goal. Play went on for about a minute.

“They did the right thing, they waved it off,” Nachbaur said. “He didn’t think it was in, but they went to video review.”

After a long delay, Blake Gal was credited with the tying goal, just 38 seconds after the second goal.

“I thought it was in, not much, though. I just swung at it and started celebrating,” Gal said.

The comeback was over at 8:57 when Kenton Miller scored for a 4-3 lead.

Of course that wasn’t the end. Miller took a slashing penalty at 11:02 and 30 seconds later Koper was called for tripping. The Americans only got one shot but that resulted in Adam Hughesman scoring his second goal.

“We had an all-right start, played pretty physical, then we got away from our game,” Koper said. “They were playing desperate, they had to win and they showed that. But in the third period we got back to the way we played, everybody stepped their game up and we got some very important goals.”

“To come back against a good team like that, three goals down, that’s a testament to their character,” Nachbaur said.