Was it really just a week ago the Kootenay Ice and Spokane Chiefs swapped whippings?
Neither team played like they did last Friday in Cranbook when the Ice won 6-2 or Saturday afternoon at Avista Stadium when Chiefs romped 11-2.
They weren’t really sharp, either, at the Arena on Friday night, but it was a tightly contested matchup of two of the hotter and better teams in the Western Hockey League, both division leaders.
Eventually the Chiefs pulled away, scoring two goals in the last 4 minutes to secure a 5-2 victory before 5,523 fans.
“I didn’t think we had a lot of jump,” said Spokane coach Don Nachbaur, who was quite demonstrative on the bench. “When your horse isn’t running hard, you have to ride him harder. We had a lot of guys. It wasn’t their best game. The last two weeks we played much better, for whatever reason, but we found a way to win. Our key guys were key again.”
That would be the Tyler Johnson line, with Dominik Uher and Levko Koper on the wings, for offense, and James Reid on defense. Reid made just 23 saves, but they came in flurries and some were magnificent, certainly saving the game early.
“Usually, I like consistent shots. These are harder to stay focused, but I thought I did a pretty good job of keeping my head in the game,” said Reid, who broke the franchise record for wins with his 78th on Tuesday in Chilliwack. “I felt pretty good throughout the game. It’s easier when the crowd’s into it.”
The Chiefs (29-11-3-2, 63 points) almost scored 5 seconds into the game, but Uher couldn’t quite get his stick on a loose puck. It took more than 19 minutes before they finally broke the Ice, with Uher scoring at 19:39 of the first period.
Kootenay (30-14-1-2, 63) was pressuring the Chiefs, who finally chipped the puck to mid-ice. It appeared Spokane was hoping for a change when Johnson ended up with the loose puck. He broke into the Kootenay end, then left a drop pass for Uher, who patiently glided in before beating Nathan Lieuwen high with his 13th goal.
The teams traded power-play goals in the second period.
Max Reinhart notched his 25th goal with a blast from the right circle to tie it at 7:12 and then Johnson set up Koper for his 22nd at 11:47.
In the opening minute of the third period, Cody Eakin, playing his first game after an injury before the Ice picked him up at the trade deadline, scored to tie the game, fooling Reid as he came down the left side on a 2-on-1.
“He got me good on that one,” Reid said. “I thought he was going glove (side). I kind of cheated. Those skilled guys you can’t cheat like that. He went short side. That happens.”
It was the 19th goal for the 2009 third-round draft pick of Washington who injured a wrist at the World Junior Tournament.
“It felt pretty good, when you get out there you forget about it,” Eakin said. “It’s loose now, not much pain. I was a little sore at the start – my legs weren’t 100 percent. As the game went on I found my legs. A few (bad) decisions, but we’ll come back and hope the next game (is better).”
Uher scored the winner on the power play at 6:57 of the third period, set up by Steve Kuhn. There was no breathing room until Uher set up Johnson for his league-leading 35th goal at 16:20.
“The biggest thing is the team is winning, everything has been good,” Uher said. “We’re settling into a winning way. That’s the biggest reason – everyone is enjoying it.”
Kuhn added a short-handed, empty-net goal with a minute left.
“You’re going to have those games,” Nachbaur said. “Reider was good when he needed to be. Too many mistakes, too many turnovers. We were a little soft on pucks. We’ve been really strong. Our power play came through.”
The Chiefs, who have won four in a row and 11 of their last 12, are home tonight against Kelowna.
Chiefs 5, Ice 2
First Period—1, Spokane, Uher 13 (Johnson), 19:12. Second Period—2, Kootenay, Reinhart 25 (Dirk, McNabb), 7:12 (pp). 3, Spokane, Koper 22 (Cowen, Johnson), 11:47 (pp). Third Period—4, Kootenay, Eakin 19 0:46. 5, Spokane, Uher 14 (Kuhn), 6:57 (pp). 6, Spokane, Johnson 35 (Kichton, Uher), 16:20 (pp). 7, Spokane, Kuhn 13 19:00 (sh,en). Power-play Opp—Kootenay 1 of 7; Spokane 3 of 5. Saves—Kootenay, Lieuwen 6-10-6—22. Spokane, Reid 4-13-6—23. A—5,523
Castlegar 4, Spokane 1: Diego Bartlett started a run of four goals for the Rebels (32-6-0-0) as they defeated the Braves (18-21-1-2) at Eagles Ice-A-Rena.
Rance Hughes scored the lone goal of the night for the Braves.