In the first two games of their best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series, the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans put on a show hot enough to melt the ice on which they play.
There’s already been a sudden-death decision, followed by a dramatic finish in regulation the next night – in which a goal at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime was waved off, several scrums between the historic rivals in each game and two hot goalies – neither of which appear ready to fold.
It’s everything one would expect when the Chiefs and Americans rendezvous in postseason play, and the drama will likely pick right back up again when the Western Hockey League playoff set – tied 1-1 – resumes tonight at the Arena.
Spokane, the fifth seed in the Western Conference, defeated the top-seeded Americans 3-2 in Game 1 on Friday night in overtime – which marked the 12th time the teams have gone to sudden death in their last 18 playoff games.
In Game 2 on Saturday, the Americans outplayed the Chiefs for most of the game – with Spokane goalie Eric Williams making several key saves to keep the score low.
The Chiefs rallied late, with Mitch Holmberg extending his goal-scoring streak to five games. Holmberg’s power-play goal in the final two minutes pulled Spokane within a goal, which Corbin Baldwin scored at the buzzer. It appeared, at that point, that the teams were headed to overtime again.
Upon official video review of the play, the goal was waved off when the video showed the puck crossed the line less than a second after the game ended.
“That was hard to swallow, for sure,” Chiefs captain Darren Kramer said following Game 2. “We thought we had it. We waited too long to play with them, though. That’s something we’ll need to change in Game 3. We need to play our style of hockey.
“We’re two different teams – they’ve got a ton of skill. But if we can shut them down, get physical and compete on every shift, we’re going to be fine.”
Especially if Williams stays hot and the skaters in front of him play the way they did in Game 1.
In seven games – which includes six starts – Williams has posted a 1.85 goals-against average (the third lowest postseason average in the league) and is 5-1.
A three-year WHL veteran, Williams, who joined Spokane in a trade-deadline deal with the Prince Albert Raiders, had only played in three playoff games prior to this year. In those three games, his GAA was 4.66.
Williams’ play, in combination with solid work from all four lines and Spokane’s defensive corps, has given the underdog Chiefs a real chance at winning the series.
“It’s always nice to be an underdog,” Holmberg said. “Just to try and do something special with it.”