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Tyler Johnson hits 50 goals as Chiefs win

This was the kind of game the Spokane Chiefs try to take in stride and their fans go wild.

There were a couple of milestone goals, including local favorite Tyler Johnson getting his 50th, and rival Tri-City was on the receiving end of a 5-1 whipping that assured the Chiefs would be no worse than the third-seed from the Western Conference when the Western Hockey League playoffs open in two weeks.

Yes, the crowd of 9,156 at the Arena Friday night was loud and proud.

“It’s always nice to get that against your rival,” Johnson admitted. “It’s always been the Chiefs’ rivalry since I was growing up. I’ve never really like Tri-City. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Johnson reached 50 with his second goal at 2:50 of the third period. Earlier Blake Gal, who ended up with two goals, and Anthony Bardaro both got to 20, putting six Chiefs at that plateau.

“It shouldn’t surprise us,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “We’ve had contributions from everybody. We never put the individuals first, always the team. It’s nice to see our guys reach those kinds of milestones.”

More importantly it was the sixth straight win for the Chiefs (44-17-4-2, 94 points), keeping them one point behind Portland in the chase for the top seed in the West. More satisfying is that it was the fifth straight win over Tri-City (40-23-2-2, 84) and seventh in 11 meetings.

“I thought for the whole 60 minutes we played really well,” Spokane goalie James Reid said after making 19 saves. “We didn’t let up at all. They had a few chances early but I think I had four shots in the second, four in the third. The guys played well in front of me.”

Kootenay, the No. 4 team in the East with 90 points, is at the Arena tonight.

The rivals traded goals in the first period with the Americans striking first at 14:04. Zachary Yuen made a nice play to keep the puck in at the blue line and dumped it deep into the Spokane zone, where Brendan Shinniman corralled it. He skated out and sent a pass to Tyler Schmidt between the circles for an easy goal and franchise record for defensemen with his 161st career point.

The Chiefs quickly got that back on Bardaro’s backhander of a rebound from Tanner Mort’s shot from the point.

The Chiefs got a pair in the second, the first of the night for both Gal and Johnson. Gal got a stick on a shot from the point to break the tie with a power-play goal at 5:03 and then Johnson made a tip for a goal late.

Johnson’s milestone came when Brenden Kichton’s shot from the point bounced off goalie Drew Owlsey, high in the air and over his head, where Johnson was camped to bat it in.

“It’s pretty special,” Johnson said after his three-point game gave him 109 points. “To be able to do that at home, where I have a lot of family, especially on a night like this, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

That gave the Chiefs’ top-rated power play two goals in four man-advantage situations, while they kept the No. 2 power play off the board in three opportunities.

Gal capped the scoring at 9:01.

With the Chiefs in control there were a number of skirmishes but nothing could change the direction of the game.

“I thought we played well,” Nachbaur said. “I thought we were patient in the first period. After that first goal, the power play was good, the penalty kill was good. All four lines were solid.

“We played hard for 60 minutes. We didn’t get sidetracked. We were composed. That’s good, that’s playoff hockey. There are going to be games you can get swayed by the moment but you’ve got to stay focused. And they stood up for each other.”