While the Spokane Chiefs are playing better lately, the clock is quickly ticking on their playoff chances.
And depending on the results of their next two consecutive games against the team to catch, the Portland Winterhawks, the clock could strike midnight.
A turbulent third period doomed the Chiefs on Saturday at the Arena, as Spokane committed four penalties and failed to capitalize on golden chances, and lost out on a crucial two points in a 3-2 loss to Kamloops.
“Undisciplined, uncalled for penalties – maybe it was frustration, maybe it was fatigue, I don’t know, but you can’t, in a 2-2 game, take four penalties and expect to win,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said.
The Chiefs fell 11 points behind Portland for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot after the Winterhawks topped Seattle, 4-3, in a shootout for their seventh straight victory.
Spokane ended up killing the aforementioned four penalties, including a 5-on-3 5:58 into the third period, which Nachbaur said he was proud of. But being on the penalty kill constantly took the wind out of the sails.
Kamloops’ Garrett Pilon scored to put the Blazers up 3-2 with 9:46 left in the third, deflecting the puck off a Chiefs players’ skate and into the back of the net.
Despite being on their heals for most of the last period, the Chiefs were gifted some opportunities in the final period.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Kailer Yamamoto were both denied on one-on-one breakaways by Blazers’ goaltender Connor Ingram, who leads the Western Hockey League in save percentage at .929 and is second in goal allowed average at 2.33.
Yamamoto even had a penalty shot after being tripped on a breakaway, but his shot was deflected on Ingram’s shoulder.
“Those are grade-A,” Nachbaur said. “You gotta beat ’em on one of those three, and we didn’t. And those are our best players.”
Kamloops struck first with 6:06 left to play in the first period, as overage forward Lane Bauer fired a shot that deflected off Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith’s skate and into the net.
Ethan McIndoe put the Chiefs on the board with 4:08 remaining in the first period, knocking the puck in with the back of his skate after Hayden Ostir redirected Tyson Helgesen’s shot from the point.
Anderson-Dolan gave Spokane its first lead with 31.2 second remaining in the first period after potting a goal on a wide-open net. Ingram failed to clear a puck after rushing out from the crease, and Anderson-Dolan corralled it and fired at the empty goal.
Ondrej Vala, a Dallas Stars prospect, lasered a goal past Chiefs goalie Dawson Weatherill to tie the game, 53 seconds in the second period.
The Chiefs play back-to-back games against the Winterhawks, first at the Arena on Wednesday, and then at Portland on Friday.
The Chiefs players know the importance on the upcoming tilts.
“Those two games are make or break,” Weatherill said. “If we can come away with two wins there, we’ll be in a great position coming into the last stretch of the season.”
Hudson Elynuik, who is third on the team with 52 points, was scratched for the second straight night after sustaining an injury in practice this week.
Nachbaur declined to comment on the severity of his injury.
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