Every win this time of year is important to the Spokane Chiefs but vital to the Tri-City Americans.
Playing with a sense of desperation, the Americans snapped an eight-game losing streak Saturday at the Arena as goalie Eric Comrie stopped all 34 shots during a 3-0 victory over the Chiefs.
With seven games left for both teams in the Western Hockey League’s regular season, the defeat hurt the Chiefs’ chances of improving their playoff seeding while the win moved the Americans closer to wrapping up the Western Conference’s eighth and final postseason berth.
Spokane (36-23-3-3, 78 points) fell six points behind current No. 4 seed Seattle, which ended Portland’s 21-game winning streak with a 4-1 home win. Tri-City (28-29-3-5, 64 points) moved four points ahead of ninth-place Prince George, which lost at home to Victoria.
“Especially snapping that losing streak tonight, that was good for us, but desperation is a good word to use with how we’re feeling in the locker room,” said Americans center Brian Williams, who picked up his team-leading 36th goal in the second period to cap the scoring and assisted on a first-period goal.
The Chiefs had dominated Tri-City this season, winning seven of the previous nine games including a 7-0 shellacking on Feb. 15.
But Spokane’s offense is struggling, evidenced by their two shutouts this weekend (2-0 to Portland on Friday). The Chiefs weren’t blanked during their first 42 games of the season, but they have been shut out in seven of their last 23 games.
“Forechecking is hard work and I think a lot of guys looked for an easy game,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “An easy game brings you nothing. Zero. It’s embarrassing and I think the guys should be embarrassed with their effort tonight.”
Although Spokane outshot the Americans 34-29, Tri-City set the tone with an active, two-goal first period.
Riley Whittingham’s interference penalty 2 minutes in gave Tri-City a man advantage and the only power play on which either team scored. Parker Bowles picked up his 11th goal at 3:30 with the second rebound against Chiefs goalie Eric Williams.
Brian Williams assisted on Brandon Carlo’s goal at 13:35, a slap shot from near the blue line on which Eric Williams may have been screened.
Brian Williams’ goal, at 13:49 of the second, came moments after he served a penalty for hooking. Williams got a breakaway, faked right and scored to the left of the net.
“You don’t want to be in the (penalty) box, but that’s the sugar coating when you get that opportunity for a breakaway,” Williams said.
Spokane finished the night 0 for 5 with man advantages.
“To play the game like we did, soft and in slow motion, at this time of year it’s embarrassing and we had a full house (9,403) tonight,” Nachbaur said.
“I think we disrespected our fans.”
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