The sticks came alive for the Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday. Just at the right time.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Eli Zummack and Tyson Helgesen each scored in the final period to lift the Chiefs to a 6-5 win over Portland in a key Western Hockey League contest at the Arena.
“It was a good moral victory for us,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
Spokane picked up two crucial points in the win, cutting the distance between the Chiefs and Winterhawks for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot at nine.
The Chiefs also knocked off a streaking Winterhawks club, entering Wednesday’s game on a seven-game winning streak to widen the gap between the two clubs.
After Skyler McKenzie scored early in the third period to provide a Winterhawks a 4-3 lead, the Chiefs needed a spark.
It came from Anderson-Dolan.
The second-year center scored his seventh goal in five games to push his scoring streak to five, sniping a shot from the blue line and tying the game at four with 12:55 left to play.
Anderson-Dolan pumped his fist and screamed near center ice after seeing the puck in the back of the net, which invigorated his teammates.
“That was an unbelieveable shot from (Anderson-Dolan) there,” Zummack said. “That guy can shoot the puck. And when he scores he really boosts our team.
“It really got us going.”
Spokane’s go-ahead goal came from Zummack on a rebound goal with 9:56 remaining in the third period. The 16-year-old forward also added an assist.
“He’s only 16 years old, but he knows the areas of the ice to get to to score and he’s in those areas,” Nachbaur said of Zummack, who’s tallied four goals in his last six games. “You can teach it, but at the end of the day, the light bulb goes off for some guys … it’s gone off for him.”
Zummack’s performance has been noticed by his teammates.
“That guy since he’s been up with us has played unbelievable,” Helgesen said.
Tyson Helgesen added an insurance goal as the defenseman capitalized on a cross-ice pass from Keanu Yamamoto with 9:56 remaining.
“I was cheating backside a bit and I saw Keanu with his head up,” Yamamoto said. “I just charged in the spot and broke in front, and he made an unbelievable pass. I just had to tap it in the net.”
That goal came in handy later.
With the goaltender pulled, Portland’s Alex Overhardt netted his second goal of the night with 1:53 left in the third period to cut the Chiefs’ lead to one.
The Chiefs were faced with a 6-on-4 for the rest of regulation after Alex Mowbray was called for a penalty, but Spokane killed off the penalty to eke out the win.
The Chiefs’ penalty kill, which has improved since the Christmas break, was put to the test. The Chiefs had seven penalties called on them, compared to one on Portland.
“We did it the hard way,” Nachbaur said. “But we showed a lot of character.”
The game see-sawed back and forth, with four ties and three lead changes. Nachbaur said he was impressed with how his team battled.
“I love the fact that we don’t quit,” Nachbaur said. “We got some good leadership and character in that position when need be.”
Some luck allowed the Winterhawks to jump out to a 1-0 lead.
Portland left wing Colton Veloso was presented a shot on a wide-open net after the puck took an unorthodox bounce while gliding along the boards. Chiefs goalie Dawson Weatherill had left the crease, as he was skating to meet the puck behind the net, giving Veloso a great look and a goal with 15:03 to play in the first period.
The Chiefs responded at the 11:03 mark, as forward Ethan McIndoe forced a turnover at mid ice and rushed down the left side and fired a shot past Portland goalie Kehler’s left shoulder and in.
Portland struck back, as Alex Overhardt potted a power-play goal with 9 minutes remaining in the first period. Chiefs defenseman Nolan Reid turned the puck over in Spokane’s end of the ice on a clear attempt, giving the Winterhawks a prime scoring chance.
A hectic first period was capped with Alex Mowbray’s shorthanded goal with 2:14 remaining. The 20-year-old forward rushed out on a breakaway and deked Kehler for a backhand score, tying the game at two.
Hayden Ostir put the Chiefs up 3-2 on a rebound goal with 7:14 remaining in the second period.
Portland defenseman Brendan De Jong tied the game at three at the 3:49 mark of the second period, capitalizing a nice pass from Ryan Hughes to sneak one past Weatherill.
Perseverance and consistent play helped Spokane derail a red hot Portland squad.
“I don’t think we were special tonight,” Nachbaur said,“but we were damn good in a lot of areas.”
The Chiefs travel to Portland to face the Winterhawks on Friday, another chance for Spokane to chip away at Portland’s lead in the standings.
And while Nachbaur will vouch for some of the recent improvements the team has made, Wednesday’s win is a confidence boost moving forward.
“It was definitely a character win for us,” Helgesen said. “Hopefully we can get the ball rolling here and keep it going.”
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