VANCOUVER, British Columbia – With mirroring records coupled with a pair of down-to-the-wire regular-season meetings, the first- round Western Hockey League playoff matchup between the Spokane Chiefs and Vancouver Giants was almost destined to be a low-scoring dogfight.
Game 1 of the best-of-7 series turned out to be the exact opposite. At least on the low-scoring end.
The Giants defeated the Chiefs 7-5 in a frantic-paced contest at the Pacific Coliseum on Friday night.
After both teams came out of the gate stagnant, Vancouver was first to strike. The Giants’ Austin Fyten scored off a Brendan Ghallagher miss with 2.6 seconds left in the first period. Spokane, on the other hand, struggled on offense, amassing only six shots on goal in the first despite having three power-play opportunities.
Home-ice advantage became apparent early in the second as the Giants put up back-to-back goals in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the period. Vancouver’s Cain Franson scored on a breakaway, while Marek Tvrdon’s wraparound less than 2 minutes later put the Giants up 3-0.
Blake Gal’s wrist-shot goal at the 6:42 mark in the second finally got Spokane on the board. Steve Kuhn also scored in the second period for the Chiefs, but a pair of goals by Vancouver’s Jordan Martinook kept the Giants ahead 5-2 going into the third.
“We made far too many mistakes and most of the opportunities they got was a direct result of us having the puck and making errant plays,” said Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur. “They took full advantage of it.”
While Chiefs goalie Mac Engel struggled, he didn’t get much help from his defensemen, who seemed complacent all game, repeatedly getting beat to loose pucks and failing to control Vancouver’s transition game.
Jason Fram’s power-play goal at the 6:32 mark of the third sparked a Spokane comeback. Dominik Uher scored a minute later for the Chiefs, a short-handed goal that got Spokane within one. The Chiefs were close to evening the score on a few occasions, but Giants goalie Adam Morrison was able to fight off a barrage of shots during a Spokane power play midway through the third.
A wraparound at the 16:12 mark by Franson put Vancouver up 6-4.
Spokane’s Mike Aviani scored with 90 seconds to go, but that as close as the Chiefs would get. Franson completed a hat trick when he scored on an open net with 1.9 seconds on the clock.
“We had the opportunity to tie the game and we made a mistake with the puck, turned it over and it ended up in the net for a seventh goal,” Nachbaur said. “Bottom line, that’s how we played all night – too many mistakes.”
Leading regular-season scorer Brenden Kichton also had a relatively ineffective night for the Chiefs, accruing only one assist. Gal also had two assists besides his goal.
The Chiefs will have a chance to even the score against the Giants, as the two face off again tonight at 7 at Pacific Coliseum. Nachbaur hopes his team can rectify its errors in Game 1.
“We have to come with a different mentality (tonight),” he said. “Simple as that.”