Riley Whittingham might want to stick with his new ways.
Whittingham’s first two-goal night with the Chiefs guided a 5-2 win over the Tri-City Americans on Saturday that gave Spokane a big boost in the standings.
Whittingham staked Spokane to a 2-0 lead through two periods, and the Chiefs made the most of their four third-period shots to turn back their biggest rivals with 10,122 in attendance at the Arena.
Whittingham has scored five goals this season, but three have come in the last three games and he has three overall winners.
“I changed my routine up a little bit and it’s been working, so I’ll stick to it, I guess,” Whittingham said.
“We’ve been missing that for a long time,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “I go back to years past, last year and the year before, and it wasn’t always our top-end guys scoring goals. It was our third- and fourth-line guys.”
Spokane (32-21-2-0, 66 points) jumped from sixth place in Western Hockey League Western Conference standings to a tie for fourth with Victoria (31-19-1-3, 66), which plays at Spokane tonight. Tri-City (31-21-1-2, 65) dropped from fifth to sixth.
Barring unusual circumstances, the three teams won’t get hot enough to move up to third place or fall apart enough to finish seventh. Fourth place becomes the top prize, because that finisher will have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Fifth and sixth won’t.
“Every game’s important now and we didn’t play well (Friday) night (a 4-1 loss at Kootenay),” Nachbaur said. “I thought we played way better tonight. We had our moments in the third period (when T-C outshot the Chiefs 15-4) … but it was a good effort.”
“It feels really good,” said Whittingham, a third-round draft pick as a 15-year-old who is in his first year with Spokane. “I wouldn’t have expected it at all. If feels good to get the win, though.”
Whittingham’s first goal, a rebound at 17:56 of the first period, was on a 5-on-3 power play and assisted by Brenden Kichton and Reid Gow. Kichton picked up his 63rd point to tie Todd Fiddler for the team lead.
His second goal, at 15:34 of the second period, came soon after he fumbled a pass on a 2-on-1 breakaway. Liam Stewart assisted on that goal and Connor Chartier’s score 25 seconds into the final period.
Spokane goalie Eric Williams had his shutout bid end with Lucas Nickles’ shorthanded goal 21/2 minutes later. Williams stopped 30 of 32 shots and faced 15 in the final period.
Adam Helewka’s breakaway goal, his eighth of the season, came at 12:28 and boosted the Chiefs’ lead to 4-1.
T-C’s Brian Williams scored a late goal and Spokane’s Mike Aviani had an empty-netter with 34 seconds left, his 25th of the season.
“Some of our young guys chipped in,” Nachbaur said. “Riley Whittingham had a big night and that was good to see.”
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