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Top-ranked Kelowna tops Chiefs to split season series

KELOWNA, B.C. – The Canadian Hockey League’s top-ranked team for the last 10 weeks finally caught up with the Spokane Chiefs.

Nick Merkley scored twice Wednesday as the Kelowna Rockets toppled the Chiefs 3-1 at Prospera Place to set a franchise record with their 53rd win.

Jordon Cooke made 29 saves as the Western Conference-leading Rockets (53-10-0-4, 110 points) finished tied with Spokane in their four-game season series. The Chiefs outscored the Rockets 14-13 this season.

Kelowna has won 10 of its last 12 games to move within three points of clinching the conference’s top seed and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Chiefs (36-24-3-3, 78 points) lost their third consecutive game and have dropped 11 of their last 16. Spokane has been held to one goal in its last three games.

Spokane remained one point ahead of idle Everett for fifth place in the Western Conference with six games left in the regular season for both teams.

Connor Chartier’s 12th goal of the season, assisted by Jason Fram and Jeremy McIntosh, gave the Chiefs a 1-0 lead at 17:03 of the first period.

Carter Proft’s goalie interference penalty less than 2 minutes later set up Merkley’s first goal, on a power play with 3 seconds left in the period.

The teams played a scoreless second period before Merkley’s go-ahead goal at 1:25 of the third with the teams skating 4 on 4. Madison Bowey’s insurance goal at 16:56 was also on a 4 on 4.