Coming home after sweeping three straight Western Hockey League games on the road to extend the team’s win streak to five games, the Spokane Chiefs fell flat on their home ice Wednesday night, giving up three goals in the third period to Seattle and falling to the Thunderbirds, 4-2.
To add insult to injury, Seattle scored on a power play to tie the score at 2-2, took the lead on a short-handed goal less than two minutes later, then capped the night by scoring into an empty net in the final minute.
The Chiefs looked little like the team that boasted a 7-1 record against the T-Birds coming into the game, nor the team that swept a three-game series with Seattle in January.
“We came home after playing well on the road and figured we’d just throw on the jersey and go out and take the win,” coach Don Nachbauer said, shaking his head.
“We had no respect for the other team out there.”
Spokane took a 1-0 lead after the first period. Mike Aviani scored off a nice feed in the crease by Mitch Holmberg at the 7:08 mark. The Chiefs made that goal stand up for the remainder of the period.
But the warning signs were out early.
Defenseman Cole Wedman earned a double-minor penalty for high sticking midway through the first period. In all, the Chiefs were whistled for three high sticking penalties, two more for holding and two for tripping.
“That’s not like us,” Holmberg said. “Those kids of penalties happen when you’re caught flat footed and you try to make up for it.”
Nachbauer put it simply.
“We just didn’t skate,” he said. “We gave up penalties we never should be giving up and we didn’t draw anywhere as many penalties as we should have against a big, tall defense like (Seattle) has.
“This was the kind of games where you expect your veterans to be the ones inspiring your young guys. In this game, it was the veterans who weren’t skating and our young guys were the ones out there skating hard and working it. They didn’t deserve to come off the ice tonight.”
Carter Proft put Spokane up, 2-0, 7:20 into the second period.
And then the wheels started to come off the apple cart.
Just 20 seconds later Tyler King was whistled for holding and a minute into the Seattle power play Roberts Lipsbergs whipped an off-balance wrist shot from behind a screen past Spokane’s Eric Williams to cut the lead on half.
In the third period, Seattle defenseman Shea Theodore fired a wrist shot past Williams from the top of the right-hand faceoff circle to even the score.
Just over a minute later, with Spokane on a power play, the Chiefs got sloppy with the puck in the Seattle end and the T-Birds jumped on the loose puck for a two-on-one breakaway. Seth Swenson’s deft pass gave Connor Sanvido an open shot and Seattle had the lead.
The win moves Seattle ahead of Everett in the race for the final U.S. Division playoff spot.
A home-ice win would have moved Spokane ahead of Tri-City and into fourth place in the division in the race for playoff seeding.