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Chiefs’ schedule, red-hot Portland prove too much to overcome

The Portland Winterhawks swooped into Spokane riding a 10-game winning streak and they looked every bit like a team on a roll, beating the Spokane Chiefs 3-1 on Saturday night at the Arena.

The Chiefs (12-6-0) came into the game trailing Portland (14-3-0-1) in their division and came out hot despite not arriving in Spokane until 7 a.m. Saturday after a 6-4 win Friday over Vancouver.

The Chiefs constantly harassed Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke early but they faded, coach Don Nachbaur said.

“I want to give Portland credit. They are a very good hockey team,” Nachbaur said. “But the schedule takes a toll. We weren’t sharp moving the puck.”

On one play, the Chiefs’ Mitch Holmberg had one shot deflected. He regained the puck only to shoot it off the post. It would be Holmberg’s first scoreless game of the season.

“We made fatigue errors and it cost us a hockey game,” Nachbaur said. “(Portland) has a lot of depth. It’s tough to match that.”

Portland’s Brendan Leipsic started the scoring with a power-play goal with 6:44 left in the first.

Burke looked like more of a stone wall than a goalie, continually turning away the Chiefs as the Winterhawks, who have seven players that have been drafted by the NHL, began to dominate action on the puck.

Immediately after the start of the second period, Chiefs goalie Eric Williams blocked one hard shot by Leipsic, but Alex Schoenborn got the deflection and slipped it underneath Williams to put Portland up 2-0 with 18:54 left in the period.

Chiefs players frequently found themselves frustrated in front of the Portland net. After one exchange, Holmberg, who ranks 14th among the Chiefs’ goal scorers all-time with 103, slammed his stick against the board as he exited during a shift change.

“When Mitch (Holmberg) and Mike (Aviani) don’t put it in the net, it’s thin for us,” Nachbaur said, referring to his team’s scoring.

The frustration throughout the end of the second period with Portland not only leading on the scoreboard but they also had a 23 to 15 advantage in shots on goal.

Things looked good for Spokane players as they fought for the puck at the Portland goal. The Chiefs failed to score but knocked over Portland goalie Burke and knocked off his helmet with 15:27 left to play.

But the Winterhawks again made a run with a beautiful drive and pass by Keegan Iverson to Paul Bittner, who slammed the puck past Williams to put Portland ahead 3-0 with 8:52 left to play.

The Chiefs finally got a goal with a shot from Cole Wedman with 2:44 left.

But it was too little too late.

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