Playing with a depleted lineup this late in the season with playoff positioning on the line is never ideal. The fact that one of those out of the lineup was star Kailer Yamamoto makes things even more difficult.
The Chiefs were forced to shuffle their lines and couldn’t quite solve Tri-City goaltender Patrick Dea in their 2-1 loss to the Americans in front of 8,934 fans at the Arena.
Yamamoto missed the game for undisclosed reasons. The Chiefs have also been without forward Zach Fischer for a lengthy amount of time. Without Yamamoto’s scoring prowess – he averages 1.6 points a game to lead the team – the Chiefs had trouble finding the net, though it wasn’t without trying.
The Chiefs peppered Dea with 37 shots, but only an Eli Zummack power-play goal at 8 minutes, 44 seconds of the third period kept them from being shut out.
“I thought we had lots of opportunities,” Chiefs coach Dan Lambert said. “When you get chances on a goalie, you have to bury them and we didn’t bury them tonight. Ultimately, our goalie gave us a chance to win. I thought we had some good looks but were only able to get one by him.”
Bailey Brkin got the start in net for Spokane. Brkin rejoined the team this week and turned aside 28 of Tri-City’s 30 shots.
Brkin got plenty of action, as the Americans controlled possession for long stretches of the game.
“They’re definitely a good team on the rush,” Brkin said. “I don’t know what it was, but sometimes they were able to keep the puck in our end. We kind of got caught on our changes, too.”
Michael Rasmussen scored on the power play from the slot at 8:40 of the second to give Tri-City a 1-0 lead. Hudson Elynuik was in the penalty box for holding.
Juuso Valimaki scored Tri-City’s second goal and the winner 54 seconds into the third period when he beautifully tipped in a point shot by Rasmussen.
The Chiefs had five power-play opportunities but could only convert once. Three of those opportunities came in the third period when the Chiefs needed a goal.
The Chiefs are carrying three goaltenders in Brkin, Dawson Weatherill and Donovan Buskey. With the playoffs approaching, Lambert said the team will evaluate all three and play the goalie who steps up.
“We’ll see how things go here moving forward and then we’ll start the guy who we believe gives us the best chance,” Lambert said.
The loss moves the Americans within one point of the Chiefs for third place in the U.S. Division. The teams meet again Saturday night in Kennewick with a lot on the line. A Spokane win in regulation would lock the Chiefs in that third-place position and create a first-round playoff series with either the Portland Winterhawks or Everett Silvertips.
Should the Chiefs fall to fourth place after Saturday or Sunday’s game in Portland, they’ll fall into the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot and would play the B.C. Division-champion Kelowna Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Regardless of the opponent, the team announced Friday that the first two home games of the opening round series will be played March 28 and 29 at Spokane Arena. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m.
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