There’s no doubt most of the sellout crowd of 10,474 at the Arena on Saturday night are likely to come back.
Will the Spokane Chiefs?
After twice rallying from two goals down, the second time with under 4 minutes remaining, the Chiefs gave up the winner with 37 seconds to play, falling to rival Tri-City, 5-4.
“Why not?” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said about his team bouncing back. “We’ve been in Tri-Cities and lost 8-3 and came back. You learn from your mistakes. Tonight we made some mistakes that were uncharacteristic of our team. Give them credit, they capitalized on those mistakes. That’s playoff hockey and our guys have to learn that as we move forward.”
The Americans (31-13-2-1, 65 points) closed within three points of the Chiefs (31-12-4-2, 68) in the U.S. Division of the Western Hockey League and have played three fewer games. The Chiefs dropped three points behind first-place Portland but have played two fewer.
It won’t take long to see how the Chiefs respond, their next game is Friday at Tri-City, the second of five-straight weekends they face off.
The first one was wild.
Connor Rankin cleaned up a scramble in front of the Chiefs’ net, shooting the puck over Mac Engle, who made 26 saves, to put the Americans up 4-2 with 5:17 to play.
But Tyler Johnson gave the Chiefs life with a goal with 3:55 left, running his point streak to 17 games. Then Steve Kuhn completed a hat trick with his third power-play goal to tie the game with just 1:09 remaining.
However, the Chiefs didn’t mark up well in their own end and Mason Wilgosh was alone at the corner of the net to tap in the winning goal.
“What a game,” Nachbaur said. “It turned out not what we wanted but all things considered, it’s learning. We came back from 4-2, a giveaway, a huge, huge error late in the game, last shift and we lost the hockey game because of that. But that’s hockey. Sport is about mistakes. We made too many mistakes to win. I think three of their goals could have been prevented.”
After a scoreless first period the Americans took charge on a pair of Spokane miscues – a give-away and an odd-man rush. First it was Brendan Shinnimin running his point streak to 19 games, best in the league this season, with a difficult angle shot from the goal line at 3:06. That started when the Chiefs not only failed to clear the puck but put it deep into their own zone. Barely three minutes later Patrick Holland converted a two-on-one from Justin Feser after a defenseman committed too early.
But the Chiefs battled back with a pair of power-play goals by Kuhn, with the man advantages lasting exactly 20 seconds. On the first, at 7:35, he converted a pass from Kenton Miller. Then in the final minute of the period he deflected Jared Cowen’s shot from the point past Drew Owsley, who made 28 saves.
“It was one of those tough games,” Cowen said. “We know we’re a better team. We have to play to our potential because those are important games. We have to come our ready for these type of games.
“I think maybe some of the guys were nervous thinking about how big of a game it was. I don’t know, it’s been that way the last couple of games. Not so much about a big game but being a little off. It’s different for each individual so I can’t really say.”
It was the first game back for Miller, who missed more than a dozen games with a concussion. The Chiefs also went without starting goalie James Reid for the third straight game.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Nachbaur said. “We were down 4-2 late and we had terrific shifts and got the crowd into it. The other side of that is we didn’t put our best foot forward. We had some guys that weren’t at the top of their game. So to me there were lots of positives.”