PORTLAND – The Spokane Chiefs had a chance to take control of their Western Hockey League playoff series with the Portland Winterhawks but they gave it back.
Just 33 seconds after the Chiefs took a 1-0 lead they let the home team and 6,506 fans at the Rose Garden get back in the game.
The Winterhawks used that momentum change for a 2-1 win Sunday night to even the best-of-7 Western Conference finals 1-1. Game 3 is in Spokane on Wednesday night.
Matt Marantz whistled a shot from the top of the left circle past Mac Carruth’s glove into the top right corner at 17:49 of the first period for his third goal, a good sign after the Chiefs had won the first game here 2-1.
“We had the momentum right when we scored the goal,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “The very next shift I sent out three guys. It was a mistake because two of them weren’t ready to play and both reactions cost us.
Portland defenseman William Wrenn tied it with his first playoff goal, a slap shot from the top of the right circle past a screened James Reid.
“It was good to get that response goal, it was a key turning point in the game,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “They had just scored and you start to think, ‘Jeez, are we ever going to get one here?’ I liked our response and I thought we were good in the areas we had to be good.”
“That’s hockey,” Nachbaur said. “It’s mistakes. We made two glaring mistakes after that momentum goal and from that point forward they took over the second period.”
The Winterhawks dominated the middle period, outshooting the Chiefs 20-8. They took the lead with a power-play goal at 7:38. Brad Ross got the puck behind the net and tried a wrap-around. The puck squirted free and Ryan Johansen was in the right place to poke it into the net.
“They stay right in front of the net on the penalty kill and I knew I would have to really work to get in front of the net and get a greasy one,” said Johansen, who has eight goals in 12 playoff games. “I was able to just whack it home when it squeezed by Reid’s right pad.”
After that it was like the Hawks smelled blood and most of the play was in the Spokane end.
“I think they were way more desperate,” Reid said. “We got the first game here so it was pretty big for them to get a game at home. They came out really hard.”
“It was not our finest hour; a 2-1 game and we got real soft on both goals,” Nachbaur said. “We chased the puck against their skill and not removing bodies. It cost us the hockey game.”
The tone was set but the Chiefs tried to come back.
“The game is based on passion, based on energy,” Nachbaur said. “We came out with way more jump in the third period. With the game on the line we had way more desperation. That was lacking after we went ahead 1-0.”
The Chiefs outshot the Winterhawks 13-5 in the third period, but it still didn’t add up to many quality chances, although Levko Koper got his stick on a puck that slipped through the crease behind Carruth in the final minute.
“We didn’t get to pucks, we weren’t competing in corners,” said Chiefs defenseman Jared Cowen, who played another outstanding game. “The difference between this game and last game wasn’t a big difference but I don’t think we were very physical at all. We were spending most of the time in our own zone and you can’t score goals playing that way. We have to do a better job of making it a battle.”
But there weren’t enough Chiefs following their captain’s lead.
“You can’t have these types of nights in the playoffs,” Nachbaur said. “For me, we have to be better if we’re going to move on. Give them credit, they’re a damn good team and they made us pay the price for playing that way.”
The Winterhawks didn’t give the league’s top power-play team much of a chance, either. Spokane had only one full power play and another that lasted 45 seconds.
“We did a good job of staying disciplined and staying out of the box,” Johansen said. “We stuck to the game plan, made good decisions with the puck and threw pucks at the net.”
The Winterhawks, outshot by the Chiefs in 10 previous games this season, ended up with a 36-35 edge.
“They had us on our heels at times,” Nachbaur said. “Whether that was their game or our game, you have to give them credit. When all is said and done it could have gone either way.”