The Spokane Chiefs were in a gift-giving mood on Austin Carroll’s 20th birthday.
Carroll scored twice during Victoria’s four-goal first period and added an assist in the second period as the Royals manhandled the Chiefs 6-1 on Wednesday at the Arena for a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven Western Hockey League first-round series.
The Western Conference third-seeded Royals can capture the first playoff series win in franchise history with a victory tonight at the Arena. Game 5, if necessary, would be Saturday at Victoria.
Carroll had the second of the Royals’ two first-period power-play goals to forge a 4-0 lead. Victoria finished 3 for 6 on power plays after being held to 0 for 8 by the Chiefs during the first two games of the series.
“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing playoff hockey right now,” Carroll said. “I got some (birthday) messages from my friends and family and I tried to block it out and just focus on the game.”
The Chiefs’ focus was in question from the starting shift, as Ben Walker scored just 11 seconds in on a slap shot to deflate a Spokane team that had taken Victoria to overtime during Games 1 and 2.
“I’ve been saying it all year long,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We come back to this building off trips where I thought we played really well on the road, where we skated, and I didn’t see many guys take a hard stride that first period.”
Carroll’s first goal, at 7:37, came on a 3-on-1 play and gave the Royals a 2-0 lead.
The flustered Chiefs then committed two penalties, Jeremy McIntosh’s unsportsmanlike conduct and Mike Aviani’s hooking, that led to power-play goals by Jordan Fransoo at 13:31 and Carroll at 15:44. Fransoo, a defenseman, skated by three Chiefs on his scoring play.
“(The power play) was a big focus on today’s game,” Carroll said. “We thought if our power play could do well, then we most likely could win the game.”
“We continually shot ourselves in the foot and then it became a mental game and we just disintegrated,” Nachbaur said.
Victoria outshot the Chiefs 11-3 in the first period. Spokane held an 18-13 edge after that, but the Royals played the more disciplined game.
Spokane’s Liam Stewart scored his second goal of the postseason at 10:04 of the second period, assisted by Jason Fram and Mitch Holmberg. For Holmberg, the WHL’s scoring champion, it was his first point of the series.
The positive vibes from Stewart’s goal lasted 29 seconds, when Logan Nelson converted Steven Hodges’ drop pass for a 5-1 lead. The Royals added Travis Brown’s goal with 1:29 left in the game on a 5-on-3 power play.
“I’d like to take that whole game and fire that video right in the garbage can,” Nachbaur said. “There were not a lot of positives other than we get to play again tomorrow and redeem ourselves.”
“You try to take it as a single game and go and prepare like you do for every game,” Carroll said. “If we got that game tomorrow, it would be huge. But if not, you have to battle because it’s playoffs.”
The Chiefs have lost seven consecutive postseason games.