If the Spokane Chiefs needed a barometer to see if they could play with the top teams in the league, Friday’s 4-1 win over the Vancouver Giants in front of 6,118 at the Arena was a good indication that yes, they can.
The Giants, the leaders of the B.C. Division, came into Friday’s game tied with Everett for the top spot in the Western Conference and are one of the favorites as the playoffs approach.
The Chiefs showed they won’t be counted out. The Portland Winterhawks also won Friday, so Spokane remains five points back of the second spot in the U.S. Division. But the Everett Silvertips defeated the Tri-City Americans, pushing the Americans seven points behind third-place Spokane.
Bailey Brkin stopped 37 shots and Jake McGrew finished with two goals in the win. Brkin came up big late when he helped Spokane kill a Jack Finley double minor.
“That was a huge game for our club, just to show that we can play with a team like that,” head coach Dan Lambert said. “I thought our special teams were really good early on the power play and then our PK was good also.”
Vancouver came into Friday’s game with the second-best penalty kill. The Giants only had to kill two penalties against Spokane but failed each time.
The success was simple, Lambert said.
“We just kept moving the puck around and capitalizing on our chances,” he said.
After Filip Kral opened the scoring at 7:56 of the first off a 3-on-1, McGrew got the first power-play goal after he used his speed to get past the Vancouver defense and sneaked in a shot past Vancouver goaltender Trent Miner from a tough angle.
“I knew I had that defenseman beat, so I just tried to put it on net,” McGrew said. “Good things happen when you put it on net and luckily it sneaked in.”
Jaret Anderson-Dolan had the other power-play goal with 21 seconds remaining in the first period.
Alex Kennok Leipert got the Giants on the board at 17:52 of the second on the power play. McGrew answered with his second goal of the night a little more than a minute later on a 2-on-1 off a pretty pass from Riley Woods. The Chiefs took advantage of a poor line change by Vancouver to create the odd-man rush.
“(Woods) made it really easy. All I had to do was get behind the ‘D’ and he put it on a platter for me,” McGrew said.
Brkin stood tall all night, but he especially shined late in the third with Spokane down a man for 4 minutes. Even with a 4-1 lead, a quick Vancouver goal on the power play would have made it an entirely different game.
Brkin and his defense withstood the onslaught to secure the win.
“That was huge. If they get one in the first 2 minutes, it may be a different game,” Lambert said. “Our guys did a great job and Brkin had a huge game for us. On any given night there are tough saves to make, and he made them.”
Lambert said that as the regular season winds down, he wants his team to be secure in their playoff spot before the two games against the Tri-City Americans to end the season. Instead of playing to hold off the Americans, Lambert wants his team to take care of business now and prepare for the playoffs.
With Portland’s win and Tri-City’s loss, the No. 3 spot in the U.S. Division is the Chiefs’ to lose. The Chiefs have five games remaining against teams below them in the standings, beginning on Saturday against the Victoria Royals.
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