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Koper’s shootout goal sends Spokane Chiefs past Kootenay

Sun., March 13, 2011

When Spokane coach Don Nachbaur described the Chiefs’ game with the Kootenay Ice Saturday night as “hairy,” the implication was understood.

In one of the tightest, most intense Western Hockey League games at the Arena in several months, the 8,802 fans were on the edge of their seats until the end. That was when goalie James Reid was flat on his back with the puck underneath him, smothering Brayden McNabb’s shot, to preserve a 4-3 shootout win.

“This was a good victory for us,” Nachbaur said. “You’ve got to win every which way. We’ve won some tough games, but that might have been the toughest. That’s a key win for us.”

Just before Reid’s save, making him 5 for 5 against the Ice shooters, Levko Koper beat Nathan Lieuwen, who had stopped Spokane’s first four shooters.

That left the Chiefs one point behind Portland in the Western Conference playoff race with four games to go. Chilliwack comes to Spokane on Wednesday.

It was McNabb’s goal, with 1:20 left in regulation, that tied the game at 3.

Even though the Chiefs (45-17-4-2, 96 points) were without their usual jump – they only had 17 shots for the game – they led for a majority of the contest. But the Ice (43-21-1-4, 91), the fourth-place team in the Eastern Conference, were always threatening.

“Maybe we poured too much into our game last night (a 5-1 win over Tri-City),” Nachbaur said. “It was an emotional game. We didn’t come back with the same emotion. We watched right from the get-go. We made mistakes … we really didn’t get into sync, but that has a lot to do with them … they had a lot more jump than we did.”

“It was a lot of back and forth,” Spokane defenseman Davis Vandane said. “There weren’t many shots both ways. There was a lot of neutral-zone play. You really had to battle to own any ice.”

Both teams scored a power-play goal early in the first period, Kevin King notching his 31st for Kootenay and Dominik Uher become the third Chief this weekend to reach to the 20 plateau.

The Chiefs got another power-play goal early in the second period, using a touch of luck. Tyler Johnson batted the puck off the left post from point-blank range, but it bounced back to him and he had plenty of time to push it into the wide-open net for his 51st.

Mike Aviani tipped Brenden Kichton’s one-timer from the right circle off Collin Valcourt’s feed for his seventh midway through the second period, pushing the Chiefs’ lead to 3-1.

Cody Eakin got one back 2 minutes later. He skated around the net, fended off a defenseman and spun around at the right circle to pick a small hole for his hard wrist shot.

It was tense the rest of the way, with Eakin setting up McNabb’s 21st with his work in the corner.

“It’s frustrates you when you’re ahead and it’s that close,” Aviani said. “We just stayed positive. … We missed the net a few times, but Kootenay was playing a really tough game.”

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