If “almost” counted, the Spokane Chiefs wouldn’t have needed overtime to win on Friday night.
But more than anything, they simply needed the win – and they played desperately enough to make that happen. Dominik Uher scored 6 minutes, 28 seconds into overtime to lead Spokane past the Tri-City Americans 3-2 in Game 4 of their Western Hockey League playoff series in front of 7,520 fans at the Arena.
With the victory, Spokane leveled the Western Conference semifinal series at two wins apiece heading into Game 5, tonight at Kennewick’s Toyota Center.
“It’s not just indicative that we won the game,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We competed a lot harder and we were better (than in Game 3) in a lot of areas.”
Perhaps most important, the Chiefs competed with desperation from the time the puck dropped – instead of having to try and rally late – and took a 2-0 lead in the opening period.
Colin Valcourt, who also assisted on Uher’s overtime winner, put Spokane on the board first, intercepting a pass off the left board by Tri-City’s Sam Grist in the high slot and going 1-on-1 against Ams goalie Ty Rimmer 3:42 into the game. The goal was his first of the playoffs.
After the Chiefs missed on two open nets, Mitch Holmberg scored his ninth playoff goal in 10 games. Davis Vandane fed Holmberg in the left circle, and Holmberg went top shelf at 11:13. Holmberg’s nine goals are one-third of his 72-game regular-season total of 27.
Although the Chiefs were 0 for 3 on the power play in the period, they killed off a 5-on-3 Tri-City power play before taking the 2-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.
“We struggled with the power play, but we’re starting to figure some things out,” Nachbaur said. “We didn’t expect it to be a four- or five-game series.”
Tri-City answered in the second, pulling within a goal at 3 minutes when Derek Ryckman cleaned up the rebound of an Adam Hughesman shot. At 12:32, Hughesman scored on an Ams power play for a tie.
There were certainly a lot of almosts – for both teams – but when Spokane’s Dylan Walchuk hit a post on a breakaway after breaking up a pass in the Chiefs’ zone with less than 2 minutes to play in the third period, it seemed like the Chiefs were cursed.
“I think I was holding my breath as much as any fan,” Nachbaur said.
Uher put those feelings to rest, backhanding a shot past Rimmer for the win.
“It’s been a long playoff for me – I haven’t had much success,” said Uher, who scored his second postseason goal. “I haven’t scored (lately), so I was actually more surprised than actually (feeling like) I could celebrate. You don’t even realized what happened until after 10 seconds. … I’m more happy that we tied the series 2-2, because going down 3-1 against Tri-City wouldn’t be nice.”
Both teams were helped again by superb goaltending from Spokane’s Eric Williams and Tri-City’s Ty Rimmer. Williams stopped 33 shots, while Rimmer turned aside 34.
“Just because we won tonight doesn’t make it any easier tomorrow,” Nachbaur said.