The Spokane Chiefs had a chance on Friday to gain ground in their division and defeat one of the Western Hockey League’s best teams.
After 10 minutes of hockey, on their home ice at the Arena, the Chiefs’ chances looked awfully good to achieve both.
But the Vancouver Giants shook off their early penalty troubles, erased a three-goal deficit and outworked the Chiefs for a 6-4 victory, extending their winning streak to five games and ending the Chiefs’ at four.
“We weren’t at our best tonight. Without the power play we only score one, and that’s not good enough,” Chiefs captain Jaret Anderson-Dolan said. “And then we give up six, and that’s definitely not good enough.”
The Giants committed three penalties early in the first period. Each time, the Chiefs’ league-leading power-play unit made them pay, staking Spokane to a 3-0 lead.
But the Giants chipped away at the Chiefs and their lead, getting one back late in the first period and then scoring three more in the second period to take a 4-3 lead.
“The first goal is probably a goal our goalie would like to get back, and I didn’t think we were very sharp after that,” Chiefs coach Dan Lambert said. “For some reason, our energy levels went down. In the second period, they took it to us. They skated, they competed, and we stood around and watched. And against a team that’s tops in the B.C. Division, you’re not gonna have success doing that.”
The Giants (28-12-2-0) entered the game with the second-best penalty kill percentage (86.3) in the WHL. They had surrendered just 98 goals, third fewest in the league.
The Chiefs (24-14-2-2) had little trouble scoring with the advantage, though. Luc Smith, who has 12 goals and five assists in 18 games with Spokane, scored the first two. Nolan Reid’s goal from the point (his eighth of the season) gave the Chiefs a 3-0 lead 9 minutes, 8 seconds into the game.
After that, the Giants restored defensive order. They didn’t take another penalty and they forced many turnovers.
“They’re a good defensive team. They were always over top of us,” said Anderson-Dolan, who assisted on two goals. “There was a little bit of puck luck, but I don’t think we worked hard enough to get to the spots.”
With 1 1/2 minutes left in the first period, Tristen Nielsen’s backhander from the right circle got through Chiefs goalie Bailey Brkin to get the Giants on the scoreboard. Vancouver scored three times in the first 9 minutes of the second period to seize the lead, 4-3.
The Chiefs equalized early in the third, on Filip Kral’s goal fifth goal of the season.
But 7 minutes later, Davis Koch got in front of Brkin before the Chiefs could clog the passing lanes. Nielsen slipped the puck to Koch, who poked in the winner with about 9 minutes to go. The Giants added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the victory.
“I thought we started showing a little momentum coming back a little bit, but ultimately we made a mistake and it ended up in the back of our net,” Lambert said. “It seemed like every time we made a mistake that’s what happened.”
The Chiefs failed to gain ground on the idle Portland Winterhawks (26-12-3-2), who remained five points ahead of Spokane and in second place in the U.S. Division.
Tri-City, which beat Seattle on Friday, visits the Arena on Saturday night. The Chiefs are five points ahead of the Americans (22-16-2-1) in the U.S. Division, which the Everett Silvertips (33-10-1-1) continue to control.
“We’ve gotta learn our lessons, lick our wounds and come back in a positive way tomorrow,” Anderson-Dolan said. “But in saying that, we know that this can’t happen again. It came down to them outworking us.”
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