A fast start for the Spokane Chiefs on Saturday night was key to their Game 1 victory at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. On Sunday evening, it was the Portland Winterhawks who flew out to a quick start in the first period, out shooting the Chiefs 15-8 and outscoring them 3-0.
They chased Chiefs starting netminder Bailey Brkin with those three markers and then greeted incoming backstop Dawson Weatherill with another goal and it was 4-0 Portland before 27 minutes of hockey had been played.
The Chiefs showed that they do not wilt under pressure though and mounted a furious comeback. They scored three goals in the last half of the game but came just short of forcing an overtime for the second straight game in this best-of-seven series.
Kieffer Bellows had a goal and an assist for the Winterhawks and Cody Glass had two assists. Bellows now has four points in the first two games of the series, leading his team.
It was Bellows who opened the scoring 2:25 into the game. Matthew Quigley read a clearance pass well and dumped the puck in deep to Glass before the Chiefs could get it out. Glass then let got with a brilliant diagonal pass from the corner to inside the right point where Bellows was waiting. The New York Islanders first round pick then smartly played the puck off his skate and to his stick before beating Brkin on the glove side for his first WHL playoff goal.
After leading the team in shots with six, in Game 1, Bellows was finally able to solve Brkin with his first shot in Game 2.
John Ludvig, playing in his first WHL playoff game sparked the Winterhawks to a 2-0 lead 6:18 later. Ludvig blocked a shot and then led the rush the other way. He dished to the right wing to Lane Gilliss and the winger deftly found his longtime linemate Jake Gricius at the back post. The goal was the first playoff goal for Gricius and his second point in as many games.
Ludvig, who has exchanged a spot in the lineup with fellow rookie Clay Hanus all season, made his case to stay in the lineup for Game 3 with that one confident play. He had a plus-two rating in the game.
Alex Overhardt made the score 3-0 before the first was over. Ryan Hughes pounced on a loose puck on the half-boards and just threw the puck on net. Brkin coughed up a juicy rebound in front and Overhardt was right where he needed to be. The goal was the third career playoff goal for the overage center.
When the second period started, Brkin was not in net for the Chiefs and instead Dawson Weatherill set up shop in the blue crease. Brkin stopped 12-of-15 and has now turned away 48 of 54 overall in the series.
Weatherill was expected to carry the load for Spokane in the playoffs. He played in the most games with 46 appearances and had a strong record of 26-12-3-3. His numbers (3.09 GAA and 0.893 save percentage) may not be that impressive, but he has shown the ability to steal games. These were all traits that seemingly should have ensured he would be the starting goalie when the series began. Instead it was Brkin, who the Kootenay ICE traded to the Chiefs earlier this year. Brkin played just seven games in a Chiefs sweater prior to the start of the playoffs. He did have solid numbers in his limited time with Spokane though, posting a 2.59 GAA and 0.913 save percentage.
Who will take the net when Game 3 comes at us on Wednesday in Spokane, is anyone’s guess at this point.
Weatherill was tested early in the second and eventually gave up what ended up being the game-winning-goal. He stopped 15 of 16 overall, but ended up getting the loss.
6:36 into the middle frame, Mason Mannek put the Hawks up 4-0. It was an odd one. Glass picked up the puck near the Spokane bench after Riley Woods hit the ice and then hit Bellows in traffic, in the slot. Bellows’ backhand shot went wide, but Glass quickly got on the puck and tried to bank it off Weatherill, who had not gotten back to his post. Glass was not successful, but Mannek – who was at the end of a long shift – jumped on the rebound and backhanded it off Weatherill, who was going down to one pad and in. Weatherill appeared to stumble on the play and Glass had the presence of mind to try and take advantage of that. The marker was Mannek’s first ever in the WHL playoffs.
The comeback was on for the Chiefs after Mannek’s goal. It was led by team captain and overage defenseman Tyson Helgesen. The blue liner finally solved Cole Kehler with 5:27 left in the second.
Riley Woods came off the half-boards with the puck and found an open Helgesen. The ensuing wrist shot beat Kehler and knocked the water bottle from its perch on top of the Portland net.
Kehler was stellar when his team needed him to be though. He stopped 26 of 29 in Game 2 and has now turned away 61 of 68 shots overall.
Spokane did make the game 4-2 after a relentless power play that finally broke through after several Grade A chances. Kailer Yamamoto’s shot from the high slott was deflected on net by Hudson Elynuik and Ethan McIndoe followed up the rebound with some nice hand-eye coordination, batting the puck in by Kehler.
Helgesen also delivered a huge hit on Skyler McKenzie in the neutral zone right before the second ended. McKenzie was slow to get up but did return to the game.
After the free flowing first two periods that saw a combined six goals, the third was a more defensive-minded affair. The teams only combined for 11 shots – with Spokane getting five and Portland six.
The only goal in the third came when Ty Smith found Zach Fischer on the rush and the overage winger wired a shot up high that Kehler could not get his blocker on. This was Fischer’s first goal in the 2018 playoffs, after notching seven in 11 games during the 2017 playoffs, while with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Portland then held on for dear life as the Chiefs pressed. They kept most of the looks Spokane had to the outside though and the end result was a 4-3 win for the Winterhawks that tied the series 1-1.
-Connor Barley made his Winterhawks debut. The 1998-born native of St. Andrews Manitoba was originally a seventh round pick by the Kootenay Ice, but suited up for just three games with them. Those games came during the 2015-16 campaign. Barley is familiar with Glass as the two played with the Winnipeg Thrashers Midget AAA team back in 2014-15. He was listed earlier this year and joined the team after his MJHL team, the Selkirk Steelers lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs to the Virden Oil Capitals. He led his team in regular season points with 67 in 58 games. Barley is listed as six-foot and 198 pounds. He played with Jake Gricius and Lane Gilliss in Game 2.
-McKenzie does not have a single point over the first two games of the series. He had plenty of great looks in this game though and led the team in shots with six. Overhardt was second on the team with four.
-Overhardt, who had a strong night at the faceoff dot in Game 1, won 8-of-16 in Game 2. Gricius was even better in this contest, winning 11-of-14. Glass took 6-of-11.
-Riley Woods took a couple tough spills in the game, including the one that led to Mannek’s game-winner. In that circumstance, the team’s fifth-leading scorer in the regular season got his skates taken out by a teammate, taking them both down. Woods has four points in the series now with an assist in this one. He leads the team overall in series points.
-Spokane went 1-for-3 on the power play and is now 2-for-5 on the man advantage in the series. Portland was not successful on either of their power play opportunities in Game 2 and is now 1-for-7 in the series.
-Jaret Anderson-Dolan is a surprising minus-three with no points over the first two games. The team’s leading scorer in the regular season is second on the team in shots with nine.
-Kailer Yamamoto has 10 shots – leading his team – but has not beaten Kehler. He has just one assist in the two games. Ty Smith also only has one assist.
-Game 3 goes Wednesday in Spokane, with Game 4 to follow there on Thursday. Game 5 is now guaranteed and will be played at the VMC at 6pm next Saturday.