While playing on their heels in the third period against a team outside the Western Hockey League’s playoff picture, the Spokane Chiefs needed someone to pull them out of their rut.
Enter Kailer Yamamoto.
The Spokane native and point machine beautifully deflected a Tyson Helgesen shot from the point past Kamloops Blazers goaltender Dylan Ferguson with 28 seconds left to break a 2-all tie and ultimately give the Chiefs a 3-2 win.
The win keeps Spokane one point ahead of the Tri-City Americans for third place in the U.S. Division. The Americans also won Wednesday at Calgary.
Kamloops outshot Spokane 17-8 in the third period after getting just 14 shots on net through the first two frames. The Blazers dominated puck possession and trapped Spokane in its own end for most of the third.
“I thought we had an OK first period and I thought our second was decent as well,” Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert said. “We were shorthanded to start (the third period) and their power play gave them tons of momentum and we just couldn’t recover.”
Yamamoto’s winner was the result of him getting to the net and keeping his stick on the ice.
“(Helgesen) had a really good shot,” Yamamoto said. “I tried to sneak around the D-man and got my stick on it. Our assistant coach (Scott Burt) always tells me to keep my stick on the ice, so I figured I’d try it today and it worked out.”
Jackson Shepard tied the game at two at 14:06 of the third when he picked up a rebound off Connor Zary’s failed breakaway attempt.
Joe Gatenby got Kamloops on the board at 3:26 of the first. The Chiefs got goals from Eli Zummack and Jake McGrew on the power play to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Zummack’s goal came when he protected the puck and muscled around the net for his 11th of the season.
“I saw (Ferguson) was out of his crease so I just wrapped it around the net and it found its way in,” Zummack said.
Ferguson – who played nine minutes for the Las Vegas Golden Nights in the NHL earlier this season in an emergency role – has played extremely well against Spokane this season. He came into Wednesday’s game with a .959 save percentage and didn’t give the Chiefs any easy looks throughout the game.
“This goalie stands on his head against us,” Lambert said.
Ferguson stopped 24 of Spokane’s 27 shots while Dawson Weatherill turned aside 29 of Kamloops’ 31 shots.
Zummack hadn’t played since Jan. 29 because of an upper-body injury. His return gave the Chiefs more depth and came at a time when Spokane is missing Zach Fischer to an upper-body injury.
The win was important as the Chiefs jockey for playoff positioning in the U.S. Division. Games against teams like Kamloops that are chasing a playoff spot are ones the Chiefs can’t lose.
And winning in the final seconds gave the Chiefs a sigh of relief.
“We got lucky,” Lambert said. “(Kamloops is) a team that knew they needed to win this game.”
The Chiefs return to the Arena on Saturday for an important matchup with the Tri-City Americans.
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