If this was a preview of what’s to come, expect a first-round playoff series that could easily go the distance.
The Spokane Chiefs, of course, will be looking for a different result than they got on Wednesday night if that’s the case.
Jackson Houck scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period and Vancouver goalie Adam Morrison made 32 saves as the Giants picked up a 2-1 Western Hockey League victory over the Chiefs in front of 4,011 fans at the Arena.
The win gave Vancouver (34-21-1-2, 71 points) sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference standings, though Spokane (31-18-4-3, 69 points) still has two games in hand.
“It was a crucial game and we knew that coming into it,” Chiefs captain Darren Kramer said. “If I can take one positive out of this, that’s moving forward and knowing we’re going to have a challenge in the playoffs if this is the team that we’re going to play against.
“If we match up in the playoffs, it’s going to be a long series, a tough series and we have to be ready for it.”
The Chiefs certainly seemed ready and had their opportunities to win on Wednesday night, as they outshot the Giants 33-22 – including a 17-5 advantage in the third period.
Goalie Mac Engel turned in a solid performance with 20 saves in net for Spokane, which was scoreless on three power-play opportunities, including the first 5 minutes of the second period after Marek Tvrdon received a match penalty for spearing Brenden Kichton at the end of the first.
“(It’s a) momentum-buster – we didn’t get it done,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We’ve struggled on the power play for the last month – maybe since Reid Gow (right hand, two weeks) has gone down. Just too fancy, not competing hard enough. Bottom line is you’ve got to get the puck to the net.”
The Chiefs didn’t capitalize on the power play, but at 5 minutes, 38 seconds in the second Liam Stewart got one past Morrison to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. The Giants tied the game later in the period, at 19:02, when Cain Franson scored following a big save by Engel.
Houck scored the winner at 9:35 in the third, and Spokane came up empty on several opportunities down the stretch.
“They got to the net real hard and made a great play – nobody’s fault,” Nachbaur said. “When you get in playoff-type games, it’s magnified on simple plays. I think that we should have done a better job off the draw out of the corner.
“It’s a 1-1 game, we made a mistake, and they capitalized. It’s not like we didn’t have our opportunities to tie the game, because we did. We had a couple back-door feeds that our guys just shot blanks on. The compete level was there – we just didn’t get it done.”
The Chiefs, who have 16 games remaining in the regular season, hit the road for their next four games, beginning Friday at Kootenay. They play at Tri-City on Saturday and at Seattle on Sunday.