Chiefs put Tri-City in 2-0 hole
Blake Gal made his 50th postseason game one to remember, even if two others were more memorable in his mind.
Gal scored twice Saturday night, including the winner with 3 minutes, 29 seconds left, to lift the Spokane Chiefs to a 6-4 win over the Tri-City Americans and a 2-0 lead in their Western Hockey League playoff series.
Gal had three goals in the two nights as the Chiefs put the Americans into a big hole in their opening-round best-of-seven series.
“It definitely helps to have experience in (playoff) games,” Gal said. “Maybe you’re still nervous, but a little less nervous than the others.”
Gal, Spokane’s current leader in postseason games played, said his night ranked No. 3 in his playoff memories. He had a hat trick against Chilliwack and the winning goal in overtime against Vancouver.
Saturday’s game had an overtime feel after the Americans’ Jesse Mychan tied the game at 4 with 11:19 left. Gal changed that in an instant.
“With the game-winner you have to give a lot of credit, if not all the credit, to Dylan Walchuk,” Gal said.
“I thought that on Dylan Walchuk’s effort on the game-winning goal … he was a real hound dog on the puck and made the play,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “It was a real special moment for him because his line didn’t have a great night.”
Chiefs goaltender Eric Williams also had a rough night, allowing three goals on four shots in the first period. He turned back four Americans shots in the second period and 10 of 11 shots in the third.
Spokane outshot the Americans 25-8 through two periods.
“We gave up what I thought were easy goals, but we could have easily had more goals on the other end,” Nachbaur said. “(The Americans) hung in there and hung in there and 4-4 (late in the game) doesn’t surprise me because they’re a good team.”
The first period resembled Friday’s game, when the teams combined for four goals. Unlike Friday, Tri-City led after the first period, 3-2, on goals by Drydn Dow, Parker Bowles and Marcus Messier.
Liam Stewart and Tyler King scored for the Chiefs in the opening period. All five goals came during a span of 5:27.
The Chiefs avoided more trouble in the first period by stopping Tri-City’s 5-on-3 power-play chance.
Gal tied the game during the fifth minute of the second period with an assist from Mitch Holmberg, who was Friday’s star with two goals.
Todd Fiddler, who led Spokane in scoring during the regular season, gave the Chiefs a 4-3 lead with 6 minutes left in the second period with an unassisted goal.
After Gal’s late goal, Mike Aviani added some insurance with an unassisted goal.
“I think the right team won,” Nachbaur said. “We had enough chances to put it out of reach earlier. But that’s playoff hockey. There were a lot of momentum swings in that game tonight.”
Games 3 and 4 are Tuesday and Thursday nights in Kennewick. Game 5, if necessary, would be Saturday night in Kennewick.