There have been some intriguing games during the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, but no series as entertaining as Spokane versus Victoria.
The first 23 games of the WHL postseason have produced four overtimes, and half of those extra-period games occurred Saturday and Sunday nights when the Chiefs played in Victoria, B.C.
Spokane came up short in both games, giving the Royals a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into tonight’s Game 3 at the Arena. Game 4 is Thursday at the Arena.
After Sunday night’s 4-3 setback, Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said a bounce-back win tonight could change the tone of the series.
“You have to win four to win a series,” Nachbaur said. “It just got started. We could have won one of these games.
“It’s not like they’re a dominant team right now. We respect them, they play hard, but at the end of the day it went 60 minutes both nights into an extended period and we could have won both of those.”
Overage goalie Eric Williams has kept the Chiefs in the series, recording 31 saves on Saturday and 41 on Sunday. Victoria has outshot the Chiefs 78-58 during the series and has had more shots than Spokane in every period except Saturday’s second.
“You can’t ask for anything more than he’s given us,” Nachbaur said of Williams. “Too many shots on our net … and yet we’ve gone into overtime twice. But that can’t be the feather in our cap. We have to do some soul searching.”
The Royals, who allowed the fewest goals (181) in the Western Conference this season, have clamped down on Chiefs overage right wing Mitch Holmberg, who led the league with 62 goals and 118 points. Holmberg had no points during the first two games.
Spokane’s Mike Aviani, who had 81 points during the regular season, has been limited to one assist in the series.
“They’re kind of keying on Mitch and Mike, obviously, because they’re two pretty good players and they know what to do and how to score,” Spokane’s Jason Fram said. “But they’ll find their way.”
Defensemen Fram (two assists) and Reid Gow (one goal, one assist) are the only Chiefs with multiple points in the series. Royals right wing Brandon Magee leads all players with three points.
Both teams have struggled with extra-man advantages. Victoria is 0 for 8 on power plays and the Chiefs were 0 for 9 until Gow scored midway through the third period of Game 2 to force OT.
“What it comes down to is just getting the puck to the net and letting the bounces happen as they will,” said Fram, whose pass set up Gow’s power-play goal. “That’s what we did and that’s why we got the goal, but we know we have to do that a lot more.”
“I won’t go into dynamics, but we haven’t shot the puck (on power plays) in this series at all,” Nachbaur said. “Whether it’s them standing in front of us or a stick in front of us, we’ve chosen not to. The moment we decided to shoot it in some traffic, it went right in the net.”
Despite their 2-0 edge, the Royals aren’t taking anything for granted. The franchise (previously the Chilliwack Bruins) has never won a playoff series.
“We’re looking at this series as 0-0,” said Royals center Logan Nelson, who scored Sunday’s winning goal during the third minute of OT.