PORTLAND – The Spokane Chiefs prepared for the Western Hockey League Western Conference semifinals with a general, not a specific, approach.
The Chiefs clinched their opening-round series against the Tri-City Americans on Saturday night, then waited 96 hours to learn their semifinal opponent. Kelowna’s overtime victory over Seattle on Wednesday night set up a best-of-seven conference semifinal between the Chiefs and the Portland Winterhawks, starting today at Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Saturday at the Rose Garden.
Spokane will host Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Chiefs players rested Monday and went through Tuesday’s workouts in good spirits, not knowing if they were headed to Kamloops or Portland for their next assignment.
“It doesn’t really matter who we play,” left wing Alessio Bertaggia said Tuesday. “We just have to play our best game and see what happens.”
The feelings were similar after Saturday’s series-clinching win over Tri-City.
“Whoever we get, we’re going to prepare like we normally do,” Chiefs captain Brenden Kichton said.
Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur focused Tuesday on the general tone of the playoffs.
“Little things make you a better team,” Nachbaur said of postseason strategy. “The experience that some of our young kids got and reestablishing what our role players knew, that the playoffs are a lot different than the regular season. Mistakes are magnified and you have to play with far more desperation than the regular season, whether it’s to score goals or keep pucks out of your net.”
Nachbaur praised Eric Williams’ goaltending and the defense in front of him during the Tri-City series. He said statistics alone didn’t show which Chiefs played well in the series.
“But if you look at the overall series, there are still guys who can play better,” he said.
Portland had the league’s best regular-season record (57-12-1-2) and the top three scorers: Brendan Leipsic (120 points), Nicolas Petan (120) and Ty Rattie (110).
The Winterhawks were 7-2 against Spokane this season and won the last four matchups. Portland has outscored the Chiefs 45-20.
Several Portland players, after clinching their series with Everett on Monday night, told The Oregonian that they would prefer to meet the Chiefs instead of Seattle in the semifinals, claiming Spokane was a less physical team.
“If they prefer to play Spokane, then go ahead,” Bertaggia said. “But we can’t focus on that kind of stuff. We have to focus on ourselves.”
After clamping down on Tri-City on Saturday, Williams said Spokane set itself up for meeting top-seeded Portland in the second round by finishing fourth in conference points.
“Whether it’s in the second round we play Portland or in the finals, it doesn’t really matter to us because at some point you have to beat them to get to our ultimate goal, winning a championship,” Williams said.