Everyone knows a wounded bear is dangerous and the Chilliwack Bruins certainly qualify.
Hanging onto a Western Division playoff spot by one point as the Western Hockey League reaches the stretch run, Chilliwack played like a desperate team Friday night at the Arena.
The pushing and shoving was frustrating, but after the Spokane Chiefs pulled out a 5-3 win the home team and 7,521 fans were satisfied.
“It’s OK,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “For this time of year, teams are battling for playoff spots. Our guys were tested tonight with a playoff-type of game. It’s emotional, there was adversity involved. It’s how you handle that and how you come out of it.”
Chiefs veteran Tyler Johnson, who scored the final goal, his league-leading and career-high 37th, agreed.
“We started a little slow but Chilliwack came out like a playoff team, a little chippy,” he said. “They played a very physical game. That’s something our team has to get used to because that’s what playoffs is all about. Coming down the stretch we have to start playing more like that. I thought we responded as the game went on pretty well.”
Spokane (31-12-4-2, 68 points) is one point behind Portland, which was thumped 5-2 in Tri-City, for the top seed in the West. The Americans, who are at the Arena tonight, are five points behind the Chiefs but have played three fewer games.
It was definitely a strange first period, with the Bruins (21-23-2-2, 46 points) initiating so much of the tension after the whistle. They also lost their captain for 10 minutes with a misconduct and a bench penalty led to a 5-on-3 power play for the Chiefs.
Spokane started the scoring at 6:09 with Steve Kuhn converting a pass from Anthony Bardaro on a power play. The Chiefs got another power-play opportunity 5 minutes later and gave the puck away for James Crook to score a short-handed goal at 11:40.
Finally the tough guys squared off with Spokane’s Darren Kramer seeming to get the better of Curt Gogol.
“That continued from last game when the linesmen didn’t let us go,” Kramer said. “They came out physical like expected, so I found the right time, we gave the nod, the coaches gave us the nod. It was a pretty close fight, I don’t think too much landed.”
What it didn’t do was settle down the emotions.
The Chiefs had a man-advantage when the bench minor came but the power-play execution was horrible and even the goal, by Brenden Kichton at 15:29, came after the Chiefs missed a wide-open net from about 5 feet.
That lead didn’t last long as Mike Forsyth went around the Spokane defense and beat Mac Engel at 17:12.
The Bruins took the lead on Robin Soudek’s power-play goal in the opening minute of the second period. Kramer tied it with a shot from the right circle beating Lucas Gore at 5:32.
“A lot of credit first goes to Brady Brassart for getting me so excited to get back out on the ice,” Kramer said. “The big hit and fighting (former Chief T.C.) Cratsenberg got me so fired up. (Tanner Mort) found me in the neutral zone and I decided to move my fight for a change. I saw an opening on Gore and luckily put it in.”
Just 88 seconds later Matt Marantz gave the Chiefs the lead, capping off a dominating shift with Kuhn and Blake Gal with a backhander that popped high into the air and over the head Gore.
Though the Chiefs didn’t put the Bruins away, Johnson’s goal midway through the third period gave them some breathing room. A two-point night pulled him into a tie in the league scoring race with 82 points
“Coming into this year I knew I was definitely going to have to work hard,” Johnson said. “This was supposed to be a rebuilding year but obviously with Don at the helm we’ve done very well. A lot of guys have stepped up. A lot of guys are having career highs, we have a lot of goal-scorers throughout the roster. For me to lead, I have a lot of pride in that.”