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Chiefs break through in WHL playoffs

Tue., March 27, 2012, 11 p.m.

Just like clockwork, the playoffs roll around every March and goals become even harder to come by.

Oddly enough, that wasn’t the case for the Chiefs over the weekend in their first two games against the Vancouver Giants – who scored a combined 14 goals against Spokane to take a two-game lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference quarterfinal series.

So Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur decided it was time for a change on Tuesday night – and the move paid off.

Netminder Eric Williams, who started instead of Mac Engel, made 26 saves and three Chiefs scored as Spokane picked up a 3-2 Western Hockey League playoff victory over Vancouver in front of 3,919 fans at the Arena.

Playing without star defenseman Brenden Kichton, the Chiefs put together a cohesive effort and pulled within one game of the Giants, who lead the series 2-1.

“That’s just part of hockey,” Nachbaur said. “People get injured when they play hard, and Brenden plays hard. That’s why he was drafted and that’s why he’ll play pro one day. You don’t replace those types of guys – per se. But now the younger guys have an opportunity to step in to fill the role.

“Playoff hockey is tight checking, it’s a little quicker, and more competitive than the regular season,” he added. “I think our guys were a little overwhelmed in the first two games, but we caught up with things tonight.”

And they wasted little time in doing so.

Defenseman Reid Gow put the Chiefs on the board 3 minutes, 48 seconds into the first period when he fired in a shot from the top of the left circle on a well-timed feed from the point from winger Steve Kuhn. Gow’s shot found its way through three Vancouver players past goalie Adam Morrison’s low glove side.

Blake Gal increased Spokane’s lead to 2-0 late in the period at 16:57 when he roofed a slaphsot on a pass off the left boards from Todd Fiddler. Williams turned aside 13 shots in the period as the Giants outshot Spokane 13-6.

“He gave us a chance,” Nachbaur said of Williams, who played 24 minutes in Game 2 after Engel was pulled from the net.

“Maybe it’s the first game in the series that we’ve made the saves that we need,” Nachbaur explained, “and it gave us the belief – and you need that in playoff hockey for sure.”

Another thing the Chiefs needed was a full 60-minute effort to avoid going down 3-0 in the series, and they finally got that.

Cain Franson, who had a hat trick in Game 1, scored his fourth goal of the 2012 playoffs 3:48 into the second – the only goal of the period. But Spokane didn’t let off the gas, and Fiddler and Gal set up Corbin Baldwin at 15:56 – what would prove to be the winner – in the final period to give the Chiefs a 3-1 lead.

Brendan Gallagher scored the final goal of the game at 17:30.

“We definitely pulled it together with our backs against the wall,” Gow said. “We didn’t have two great games in Vancouver, that’s for sure, but tonight we stuck with it. We weren’t thinking about the series, or how far we were down, or anything but the period in front of us. It definitely helped us settle down.”

It also bought the Chiefs more time to extend their series with the Giants – and possibly their season as a whole.

Ice chips: Spokane was 0 for 5 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill. … Williams stopped Jordan Martinook’s penalty shot at 14:12 in the third period.

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