In the beginning it seemed like a matter of time before the Spokane Chiefs made first-place Portland crack.
Through 15 scoreless minutes of their showdown at the Arena Mac Engel had come up with a couple solid saves, the Chiefs had a bevy of chances in their 16-8 shot advantage and they were embarking on their second power play.
Then in a span of 1-minute, 59-seconds, five, yes five, different Winterhawks scored and a big-time battle became a 10-5 embarrassment.
At one point it was 9-2, the most goals the Chiefs allowed this season and matching the most Portland had scored – and there was still one period to go.
“It’s tough to put blame, but you need your big-game save,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We were dominating the first 15 minutes. We had some good looks, their goalie made some big saves, then we made a mistake. Then we made a second mistake and a third mistake. When you make mistakes you have to have someone there for you.
“I’m not going to sit here and bad-mouth my guys. We’ve got a young goalie in net, their first goal is a breakaway. You can’t give up a breakaway. It’s just an error by two defensemen. … We had a lot of those errors. You can’t have those type of errors against a good team. They get full marks. They get a chance and they bury it.”
Starting with Taylor Peters’ short-handed goal at 16:11, abysmal defense and shaky goaltending let Portland (27-15-0-3, 77 points) score at will. It was Brad Ross at 16:29, Riley Boychuk at 16:51, Ryan Johansen at 17:23 (which chased Engel) and Craig Cunningham at 18:10.
For the record, it was and wasn’t. The WHL record for five fastest goals is 76 seconds by the Saskatoon Blades in 1982, but the 119 seconds obliterated the Chiefs record for allowing five, which was 4:39 by Brandon in 1986.
“Lots of guys have to look inside themselves,” Spokane captain Jared Cowen said. “It’s really a team game, we can’t get so down on ourselves.”
In every way, shape and form it was a disaster.
Spokane (32-15-4-2, 70 points), with the best special teams in the league, connected on just one of six power plays while the Winterhawks notched two short-handed goals. Meanwhile, the Chiefs gave up a power play goal because a silly mistake made Portland’s only man advantage a five-on-three.
“I would say the whole back end was bad,” Nachbaur said.
The good news is the rain of boos wasn’t a deluge with a midweek crowd of 4,519, which shrunk quickly.
Adam Iwan wasn’t any more successful than Engel, who made his sixth straight start in place of injured James Reid, allowing Cunningham’s goal on the first shot he faced with Spokane. Portland, which caught the Chiefs in shots with 16 in the first period, was out-shot 13-8 in the second but scored on half. And by the end the shots were 48-29, a misleading statistic if there ever was one.
The Chiefs got a couple goals back quickly in the second period, starting with Kenton Miller at 40 seconds. But just 24 seconds after Mitch Holmberg’s power play goal at 4:02 another defensive gaffe led to another odd-man rush and Cunningham’s second goal.
Joe Morrow got the ‘Hawks power play goal midway through the period. Then Ross finished his hat trick, getting a shorthanded goal with 5 minutes left and a tap-in in the final minute for a 9-2 lead.
The only silver lining was Tyler Johnson getting a pair of goals early in the third period, giving him a league-leading 41 and tying him for the lead in the scoring race with 88 points. But shortly after that Ty Rattie turned another turnover into a breakaway goal.
Collin Valcourt’s unassisted goal at 12:42 finished the scoring for the Chiefs.
“We really lost our game,” Nachbaur said. “I think games like that bring out who you are. There were things for me that were alarming.”
There isn’t a lot of time to fix things. The Chiefs are at Everett Friday and then face Tri-City at home on Saturday. They play five road games in nine days beginning Sunday in Seattle.