With three games left in the regular season, the Spokane Chiefs are in a tight race for the last remaining playoff spots in the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference.
Just two points separate the sixth- and ninth-place teams.
Thanks to Wednesday’s stirring 3-2 overtime win over the conference-leading Everett Silvertips, Spokane sits in sixth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals. The Chiefs are also two points ahead of the ninth-place Prince George Cougars.
The Chiefs are in Kent, Washington, on Saturday to take on the Seattle Thunderbirds and they finish the season with back-to-back games at Victoria April 15 and 16. All three games are immensely important, but the two at Victoria are especially so. Depending on what transpires in the next week, those two meetings could become elimination games.
“When the window’s closing in on games, you realize you can’t let games slip by,” Spokane interim head coach Ryan Smith said. “You have to get into playoff mode really quick, and that’s how it’s kind of been and that’s how it’s going to continue right up until the last games in Victoria.”
Vancouver has three games in hand, however, and Victoria has one. Vancouver hosts Portland tonight, while Victoria is at Kamloops.
The Chiefs have essentially been playing playoff games for a couple of weeks. They did themselves huge favors by winning three straight during their B.C. road swing last weekend. The Chiefs beat B.C. Division-leading Kamloops and took two in a row from Vancouver. Those wins were big considering Spokane dropped two games to the Tri-City Americans on March 19 and March 26. The Americans have been eliminated from postseason contention.
“We’re in desperation mode. If we don’t win those games and get those six points, we’re way down (in the standings),” Smith said. “We knocked off Kamloops, a top team, and went into Vancouver as a tired hockey team. We’re just desperate and it’s showing in our game, so I’m real proud of them.”
The WHL’s tiebreaking procedures are different depending on where teams are tied in the standings. They’re also a bit complex.
In the simplest terms, should Spokane be tied with one of Prince George, Victoria or Vancouver after April 16 for the last playoff spot, the Chiefs would play whoever they’re tied with in a one-game play-in to determine the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
If the Chiefs are tied for sixth or seventh place with only one other team, the team with the most wins would earn the first tiebreaker with points gained in games between the two teams determining the second tiebreaker, if necessary.
If multiple teams are tied for sixth or seventh place, the team with the most wins would get the edge, with goal differential being used to break a tie if the teams have the same number of wins.
If multiple teams are tied for the last playoff spot, total wins would advance or eliminate one or more teams, with the remaining two playing the one-game play-in.
For the Chiefs to avoid the tiebreaking complexities, they just need to win.
“We know what the points are like, we have it up on the board (in the dressing room),” 20-year-old Nick McCarry said. “We’re watching that and we need to win games. That’s the plan. We can’t let off. We go into every game thinking it’s a playoff game.”
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