That takes care of the basics of the Spokane Chiefs’ 6-5 claw-from-behind win Sunday night in Game 2 of the Western Hockey League West Division finals.
Whitfield scored four goals, three that rescued the mistake-prone Chiefs and a fourth that set the stage for another bow by Darren Sinclair.
Sinclair scored another game-winner, this time with 48 seconds to go, as the Chiefs took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 series that resumes Tuesday night in Spokane.
Kamloops led 5-3 with 6:08 left before the Chiefs unleashed a flurry of goals to beat the desperate Blazers to the wire.
Chiefs defenseman Hugh Hamilton scored at 13:52 of the third period to cut it to 5-4. Whitfield’s fourth strike at 16:19 tied it.
Then came the final minute, which was heroically comic or comically tragic, depending on where you sat with the 5,622 in Riverside Coliseum, referred to by some of the disgruntled locals as Heartbreak Hotel.
There was Spokane’s John Cirjak taking an elbow in the corner and losing his helmet. Cirjak groped for the headgear as Sinclair worked his way in front of the net, his private launching pad with a game on the line.
The helmet in place, Cirjak played the puck to Sinclair, who fanned on his first try, then went top shelf with the puck to beat struggling goaltender Randy Petruk, who was slammed with four third-period goals.
“The puck was lying in the corner,” Cirjak said. “I knew I had to get my helmet on in the offensive zone or it’d be a (penalty). My helmet was barely on, my hair was in my eyes. I saw Sinks out of the corner of my eye and threw it out to him. He buried it.”
The puck and the Blazers were buried with the same motion. With four of the next five games in Spokane what’s left of this series appears to be a formality.
“Not much to say,” said Kamloops coach Ed Dempsey, who had labeled this a must-win for the Blazers. “There’s not much positive to hang your hat on. We had the game in the last 7 minutes and didn’t get it done. It came down to Spokane wanting it more than us.”
Strange, because the Blazers are winless in their last 13 games with the Chiefs.
The Blazers were 36-1 in the regular season and 6-0 in the playoffs when leading after two periods. On the strength of their power play, the two-time champions of junior hockey were headed for win No. 37 when leading after two.
Kamloops was up 3-2 at the second intermission and 4-2 when Jarome Iginla scored at 1:02 of the third period.
The Chiefs, at that point, could do nothing to please referee Lowell Dick and little to please coach Mike Babcock, insisting on taking penalties that put the potent Blazers power play on the ice.
Kamloops had 13 power-play opportunities. Four times, they cashed in with goals.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs were going scoreless in seven power-play tries.
But it meant nothing in the face of Whitfield’s dream game.
“We had a lot of adversity,” Whitfield said. “Luckily, everything I shot went into the net. I’ve never felt this good in a game. The tying goal that gave the guys a chance to win in the last couple of minutes was an unbelievable feeling.”
When the series resumes in the Arena (the game is on KXLY Extra, Cox Cable channel 14) odds are “slim to none” that Brad Lukowich, Kamloops’ highest-scoring defenseman, will play. Lukowich left the game with a mild concussion with 15:18 left in the second period after taking a hit from Greg Leeb and crashing into the boards.
The Chiefs will be without defenseman John Shockey, who suffered a broken finger in Saturday night’s opener.
“Good luck is way better than good management,” Babcock said. “We lost discipline. We got upset with the officiating and it got us off our game. I’ll take the blame. Usually I yap at them (the officials) a little and the guys stay pretty cool. But when I got excited at them, they did as well.
“That was poor leadership on my part.”
Babcock is too harsh in his personal criticism. He had the hot hands in at the right time.
The Chiefs jumped up 1-0 on Whitfield’s unassisted goal 3:33 into the game. Randy Favaro dumped it into the left corner, the puck bounced to the goaltender’s right, where Petruk, trying to poke it out, flopped. Whitfield chested the puck to the ice and had an open cage to shoot at for his third playoff goal.
The Blazers, who went the opening 6:30 without a shot, tied it when Bob Maudie launched a one-timer under David Lemanowicz’s blocker at 15:38 of the first period, with Kamloops on the power play.
Whitfield scored his second of the night at 16:35 of the second period, but power-play goals by Nolan Baumgartner and Ajay Baines gave Kamloops a 3-2 lead after two.
The Chiefs were that close thanks to their goaltender. The Blazers had a two-man advantage for 55 seconds leading 2-1, but Lemanowicz stopped shots by Baumgartner and Iginla.
In the final minute came the Sinclair goal, reminiscent of his semifinal series-winner against Portland.
“That was the best, but this was great, too,” Sinclair said. “Surge got his helmet on, got it to me, I fanned on it and then got it upstairs.”
Chiefs 6, Blazers 5
Spokane 1 1 4 - 6
Kamloops 1 2 2 - 5
First period - 1, Spokane, Whitfield 3, 3:33. 2, Kamloops, Maudie 6 (Baumgartner, Iginla), 15:38 (pp). Key penalties - Smart, Kam, 5:50; Favaro, Spo, 8:52; Ainsworth, Kam, 11:23; Hrdina, Spo, 14:34; Magarrell, Spo, 17:32.
Second period - 3, Kamloops, Baumgartner 1 (McNeil, Lukowich), 2:47 (pp). 4, Spokane, Whitfield 4 (Magarrell), 16:35. 5, Kamloops, Baines 3 (McNeil, Holland), 17:58 (pp). Key penalties - Hamilton, Spo, 1:16; Baumgartner, Kam, 4:22; Schutz, Spo, 7:40; Sinclair, Spo, 8:45; Leeb, Spo, 10:59; Magarrell, Spo, 12:51; Maudie, Kam, 13:30; Hrdina, Spo, double minor, 14:05; Iginla, Kam, 18:52.
Third period - 6, Kamloops, Iginla 12 (Holland), 1:02. 7, Spokane, Whitfield 5 (Magarrell), 10:24. 8, Kamloops, Keller 5 (Baumgartner, Domenichelli), 12:45 (pp). 9, Spokane, Hamilton 2 (Sinclair, Leonov), 13:52. 10, Spokane, Whitfield 6 (Boschman), 16:19. 11, Spokane, Sinclair 4 (Cirjak, Gillam), 19:12. Key penalties - Iginla, Kam, 5:14; Podollan, Spo, 7:32; Graf, Spo, 10:53; Rota, Kam, 17:07.
Power-play opp. - Spokane 0 of 7; Kamloops 4 of 13.Saves - Spokane, Lemanowicz 10-16-6-32. Kamloops, Petruk 12-14-6-32.A - 5,622.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: West Division finals Game 1: Spokane 4, Kamloops 3 Game 2: Spokane 6, Kamloops 5 Tuesday: Kamloops at Spokane, 7 p.m. Wednesday: Kamloops at Spokane, 7 p.m. x-Thursday: Kamloops at Spokane, 7 p.m. x-Saturday: Spokane at Kamloops, TBA x-April 22: Kamloops at Spokane, 7 p.m. x-If necessary
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