In the beginning it seemed like a matter of time before the Spokane Chiefs would make first-place Portland crack.
Through 15 scoreless minutes at the Arena, Mac Engel had come up with a couple of 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 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 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.”
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.
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 1 of 6 power plays while the Winterhawks notched two short-handed goals. The Chiefs gave up a power-play goal because a mistake made Portland’s only man advantage a 5-on-3.
“I would say the whole back end was bad,” Nachbaur said.
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.
The Chiefs got a couple of 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 Portland’s power-play goal midway through the period. Then Ross finished his hat trick, getting a short-handed goal with 5 minutes left and a tap-in in the final minute for a 9-2 lead.
The only silver lining for Spokane 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.
First Period—1, Por, Peters 7 (Cunningham) 16:11, sh. 2, Por, Ross 18 (Niederreiter) 16:39. 3, Por, Boychuk 14 (Swenson, Johansen) 16:51. 4, Por, Johansen 27 (Pouliot) 17:23. 5, Por, Cunningham 20 (Rutkowski) 18:10. Second Period—6, Spo, Miller 9 (Kuhn, Gal) :40. 7, Spo, Holmberg 13 (Cowen, Kichton) 4:02, pp. 8, Por, Cunningham 21 (Boychuk, Johansen) 4:26. 9, Por, Morrow 6 (Boychuk, Johansen) 10:22, pp. 10, Por, Ross 19 (Morrow, Johansen) 14:59, sh. 11, Por, Ross 20 (Johansen, Wrenn) 19:14. Third Period—12, Spo, Johnson 40 (Koper, Mort) 4:56. 13, Spo, Johnson 41 (Cowen) 5:43. 14, Por, Rattie 25 (Bartschi) 6:42. 15, Spo, Valcourt 6, 12:42. Power-play Opp.—Portland 1 of 3; Spokane 1 of 6. Saves—Portland, Carruth 16-11-9—36. Spokane, Engle 10-x-x—10, Iwan 1-4-4—9, Hamilton x-x-7—7. A—4,519.