The playoffs are an unforgiving group of games and leave little margin for error.
The Spokane Chiefs seemed to start off on the right foot but wilted late, and a series of mistakes led to three goals for the Portland Winterhawks. It all added up to a 3-1 loss in Game 3 of their first-round Western Hockey League playoff series. Portland leads the series 2-1.
It also doesn’t help that their top scorers from the regular season are having a hard time generating offense.
“The longer the game went, the stronger (Portland) got,” Chiefs coach Dan Lambert said. “We ran out of gas. It just seemed we didn’t have our legs tonight, didn’t have our energy or the compete that we need this time of year.”
Whether it was an inability to clear the puck out of their zone, an untimely penalty or a missed defensive zone assignment, they all ended with the puck in the back of the Spokane net.
Cody Glass gave the Winterhawks a 1-0 lead at 6 minutes, 50 seconds of the first period after Tyson Helgesen failed to clear the puck out of the zone. The puck eventually came to Glass, who sniped it past Spokane goaltender Bailey Brkin.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan got his first goal of the series at 5:31 of the second period after he picked up a loose puck off a faceoff and snuck it past Portland goaltender Cole Kehler.
But the momentum was short-lived. Zach Fischer took a hooking penalty and Dennis Cholowski scored on the power play to retake the lead. A missed assignment in the defensive zone on a Portland rush allowed Joachim Blichfeld to extend Portland’s lead to 3-1 at 11:30 of the second.
The Chiefs generated just four shots on net in the third period.
“Their goalie held his ground,” Anderson-Dolan said of Kehler’s 28-save performance. “We have to just bear down and keep shooting. Later on in the game, we got completely away from that and that’s why we weren’t getting chances.”
Kehler didn’t have to make too many difficult saves and rarely gave up a rebound.
“We have to get more traffic to the net,” Anderson-Dolan said. “I think (Kehler) saw a lot of the pucks and when we had good chances there wasn’t anybody in front. He’s a good goalie and we have to do a better job.”
The Chiefs desperately need offense from their star players. Anderson-Dolan’s goal was his first point of the series after scoring 1.3 points a game. Kailer Yamamoto has one assist in the series after scoring 1.6 points a game during the regular season. Defenseman Ty Smith has one point in the series as well.
The offensive struggles for the star players aren’t without trying, though.
“If they hadn’t had any chances, I think it’d be a huge concern,” Lambert said. “(Smith) hit a crossbar, Anderson-Dolan had some 2-on-1 opportunities that we just put it in the goalie’s belly. It’s one of those things where we have to bear down on our chances.”
Despite the loss, the Chiefs are still only down one game in the series. They can’t dwell too long because Game 4 begins less than 24 hours after Game 3 ended.
“We have to dig deep and battle through it,” Lambert said. “All season long we’ve had situations like this and we’ve been able to overcome. Tomorrow’s no different.”
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