With the Western Hockey League season winding down, the intensity winds up.
That was certainly the case Tuesday at the Arena, where the Spokane Chiefs, chasing the Portland Winterhawks in the U.S. Division for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, entertained the U.S. Division-leading Everett Silvertips in a game that meant a lot for both teams.
The Chiefs needed the two points in the standings to catch Portland, and Everett needed the two points to pull ahead of Vancouver for the top seed in the Western Conference.
But the Chiefs couldn’t hold a 1-0 lead in the third period after a good first period and an even better second period, dropping a 3-1 decision.
Everett got goals in the third from Ronan Seeley, Dawson Butt and Reece Vitelli to secure the win. The goals by Seeley and Butt came just 2 minutes, 55 seconds apart.
“They’re an opportunistic team,” Spokane forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan said of Everett. “Just one slip-up allowed that first goal and it really ended up hurting us. They take advantage of their opportunities and we gave them some.”
The Seeley goal came after the Chiefs failed to clear the puck out of their zone.
Butt scored his winning goal without putting this stick on the puck. Butt charged hard to the net and a shot from Wyatte Wylie hit off Butt’s leg and past Spokane goaltender Bailey Brkin.
“(Everett is) a team that doesn’t change very much about how they play, no matter what the score is and that’s why they just continue to work and get pucks in deep and grind away,” Spokane coach Dan Lambert said.
“We made some mistakes that ended up in the back of our net.”
Vitelli scored the insurance goal at 16:03 of the third. Lambert and the Chiefs bench thought the play should have been called offside, but their protest went nowhere.
After a first period that featured plenty of action but few whistles and no goals, Anderson-Dolan got Spokane on the board at 8:40 of the second when he blasted a shot past Everett goaltender Dustin Wolf on a 5-on-3 power play. The goal was Anderson-Dolan’s 15th of the season.
Justyn Gurney was already in the box for Everett after taking an interference penalty when Sahvan Khaira high-sticked Luke Toporowski, leaving the 17-year-old bloodied and battered. Anderson-Dolan made Everett pay with the help of a Luc Smith screen in front.
But that was all the Chiefs could muster. Wolf stopped 24 shots in the win. Brkin stopped 24 as well for Spokane.
The Chiefs were 1 for 4 on the power play and held Everett scoreless on the Silvertips’ lone power-play opportunity.
The Chiefs came into the night sitting five points back of Portland for the No. 2 seed in the U.S. Division with two games in hand. The Chiefs didn’t budge in the standings because of the loss and still have one game in hand on the Winterhawks.
With six games to go, the Chiefs need some help to move up in the standings. But Lambert said the team first needs to focus on its own game.
“We have to worry about ourselves,” Lambert said. “We have to win our share moving forward here. Tonight was a game in hand we had on Portland and we’ve played a lot of hockey lately. We’ve traveled and done that fun stuff, but we have to worry about ourselves and move forward.”
The Chiefs are back at the Arena on Friday night to host the B.C. Division-leading Vancouver Giants.
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