A bad situation has put Luke Lee-Knight in a good situation.
Lee-Knight, the former Spokane Chief, made 39 saves Saturday night to highlight the Tri-City Americans’ 4-3 overtime win over the Chiefs at a sold-out Arena.
Malte Stromwall’s goal 21 seconds into OT gave Lee-Knight the victory after the Chiefs’ Dylan Walchuk had tied the game with 5:20 left in regulation.
Lee-Knight played nine games with the Chiefs last season before he was traded to the Prince Albert Raiders. He was cut by the Americans before this year’s regular season, but finds himself the starter after Eric Comrie’s season was shut down by a hip injury.
“I can’t say enough good things about Eric,” said Lee-Knight, who is 4-2 since he took over on Jan. 11. “He’s a great kid and it’s just unfortunate what happened to him. Someone has to fill his big shoes and I’m trying to do my best to do that.”
The outcome, Tri-City’s third consecutive win over Spokane this season, narrowed the gap between the teams for the fourth-best record in the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference. Spokane is 28-16-2-0, with 58 points after its third consecutive setback, and Tri-City is 27-17-1-2, 57 points.
Spokane outshot the Americans 42-22, including 18-6 in the first period and 15-7 in the third, but Lee-Knight kept turning back his old teammates.
Asked if he thought he had an advantage against Spokane because of his knowledge of the players, Lee-Knight laughed.
“Maybe somewhat, but then again they know me too, right, so it’s a double-edged sword.”
“He had the advantage,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said, “because he knows every guy on our team wants to shoot it high, and we proved that.”
Comrie’s injury gave Lee-Knight his first shot at his old friends.
“I love every one of those guys on that side, so it’s a lot of fun when you get the chance to play them, especially when you have a game like that,” Lee-Knight said. “It was really special.”
Tri-City drew no whistles until early in the third period, when back-to-back penalties made Lee-Knight face a 5-on-3 power play for 1:22 with Spokane leading 2-1. He killed off the 5-on-3 and the 38 seconds of a 5-on-4.
The stand seemed to give the Americans a boost. Parker Bowles scored his second goal of the night with 12:55 left to tie the score at 2, and Jesse Mychan put Tri-City ahead a little more than 4 minutes later.
The Chiefs got the equalizer on a power-play goal by Walchuk, assisted by Brenden Kichton and Reid Gow. Kichton has points in 11 consecutive games.
But Stromwall, who assisted on Mychan’s goal, ended Spokane’s joy quickly in OT.
“Our game is falling apart and our confidence is falling apart,” Nachbaur said. “I think we have guys who are wearing themselves out … and not playing with any structure.”
Todd Fiddler scored his team-high 30th goal for Spokane, tying him for second in the league.
Spokane’s schedule becomes challenging the next six days, with three consecutive games against Western Conference-leading Portland (37-6-1-1). The Chiefs play at Portland on Monday and host the Winterhawks on Wednesday and Friday.
Portland is 3-0 against the Chiefs this season.