LANGLEY, B.C. – A flat effort in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals has the Spokane Chiefs in unfamiliar territory, trailing a Western Hockey League playoff series for the first time this postseason.
The host Vancouver Giants jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 8:37 and never looked back, taking Game 1 on Friday night at Langley Events Centre by a 4-1 score.
Vancouver was up 2-0 after one period and ahead 3-0 in the opening minute of the second period.
Spokane got a puck past Giants netminder David Tendeck in that second period, taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce as the goaltender went to play a dump-in behind the net, only to see the puck ricochet off the end boards, with Adam Beckman pouncing on the puck to bury his team-leading sixth goal of the postseason past the sliding goaltender. The assists went to Ethan McIndoe and Jack Finley, but that would the lone puck to get past Tendeck.
Bowen Byram’s empty-net goal iced the game with just under two minutes to play.
“They jumped us early and we didn’t rebound from that,” stated Spokane coach Dan Lambert. “These are young men. They looked a little overwhelmed at times. Maybe they never got over the high of beating Everett, I’m not sure.
“Regardless, tomorrow’s a new day and we are going to have to get to work.”
That was a message echoed by Chiefs captain Ty Smith.
“It wasn’t our best effort, we know that. Van played a good game. We just weren’t ready to go from the get-go. We need to refocus tonight and definitely be more prepared for the game tomorrow. Be ready for the puck drop.”
The two teams entered the series with the WHL’s top-ranked power plays, Spokane clicking at an phenomenal 48% while the Giants were well back in second but still at an absurd 33.3%.
But it would be the Giants power-play which got on the board first, as Lukas Svejkovsky walked in from the point and beat Bailey Brkin through traffic, high and to the blocker side, at 6:25.
Just over two minutes later, Vancouver doubled its advantage. On the forecheck, Owen Hardy delivered a big hit. After recovering the loose puck, he was stopped on his initial shot, but Dawson Holt tracked the rebound and beat Brkin with a backhander.
The trio of Hardy, Holt and Jared Dmytriw would combine for the team’s third goal, Dmytriw hitting Holt with a stretch pass to set up a two-on-one. Holt bobbled the puck initially but got a pass across to Hardy, and the rugged winger beat Brkin through the five-hole for the 3-0 lead.
The Giants would go 1-for-2 with the man advantage, while Spokane was 0-for-2.
“We have to get more pucks in behind their D and play more in the offensive zone,” said Smith. “That is when teams tend to take more penalties, when they are having trouble in their own zone. We definitely need some more O-zone time,” he said.
“We know what we need to do. (The coaches) have done a great job preparing us. We just need to refocus and execute the game plan better. I think it was just a lack of compete tonight. We can definitely fix that for tomorrow.”
The final shots on goal were 31-30 for the Chiefs, with Tendeck making 30 saves in the victory, including several key stops on point-blank chances.
Spokane’s defense did a good job of limiting the Giants’ scoring opportunities.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 7 p.m. at Langley Events Centre.
Spokane could be without winger Luc Smith, as the 21-year-old was lost less than three minutes into the contest. He skated off the ice, unable to put any weight on his leg, and went straight to the dressing room.
After the game, Lambert did not have an update on his status.
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