PORTLAND – For every wide-open net the Portland Winterhawks missed, the Spokane Chiefs missed the net completely on a breakaway.
Overall the “what ifs” were even in the first game of the best-of-7 Western Hockey League playoffs finals at the Rose Garden Friday night.
But it was the Chiefs who dictated play for 50 minutes and the Winterhawks who were desperate for the final 10, and that was enough as the visitors stole a 2-1 win in the Western Conference championship. Game 2 is tonight.
“I’m sure they’ll come out even harder,” Spokane goalie James Reid said of Portland. “But we’ll be ready for it.”
Reid was the first star of the opener, much deserved for the way he robbed Sven Bartschi and Nino Niederreiter. The Hawks didn’t break through until a goalmouth scramble with 24 seconds left.
“It was a close game in terms of scoring chances,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said, dismissing the Chiefs’ 43-28 shot advantage. “We put two right through the empty (crease), then Bartschi usually converts those. When you’re talking about 2-0, 2-1 games, those are big plays.”
It was the final 10 minutes that showed how dangerous the Winterhawks are and how important it is that the Chiefs don’t let up for a shift.
“You have to know every rush is a threat,” surprise Spokane star Brady Brassart said. “You have to play them physically, try to eliminate them from using their skills because they have lots of that. I think we did that really well, but we know they’re a great team. They have a lot of guys with a lot of skill that are dangerous out there.”
Brassart was in the lineup for the first time in six games because of his size. He made his coach look like a genius on his first shift, scoring barely 2 minutes into the game. He converted a rebound of a shot by Marek Kalus, who was playing just his second playoff game because Spokane star Tyler Johnson was serving a one-game suspension.
The other goal was a power play, converted by Levko Koper less than 5 minutes into the second period.
“We had our chances,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “The bottom line is we had two breakaways we shot off the glass. Those two moments we didn’t seal the deal, but we’ll learn.”