Luke Toporowski spent Game 2 of the Spokane Chiefs’ first-round playoff series with the Portland Winterhawks away from the team, stricken with the flu.
But he got healthy quick, and after scoring goals in Games 3 and 4 in Portland, Toporowski picked up the pace and scored two goals Saturday in front of 5,670 at the Arena to help the Chiefs to a 4-1 win and a first-round series win in five games.
It’s the first time the Chiefs have advanced to the second round sine 2013.
Riley Woods also scored two goals, and Bailey Brkin overcame an early gaffe to make 38 saves in the win.
The Chiefs victimized Portland goaltender Joel Hofer again. Hofer finished the series with a .871 save percentage. Brkin’s save percentage for the series was a stellar .922.
The Winterhawks have some firepower, though, and got Cody Glass back in the lineup in Game 5. Glass had been out since January with a lower-body injury.
“(Portland) is always a thorn in everybody’s sides wherever I’ve coached and it’s a feather in our cap beating them,” Spokane coach Dan Lambert said. “Especially with the way the game started tonight.”
Things didn’t start so well, as Portland took a 1-0 lead after a dump-in 4 minutes into the game took a weird bounce behind the net. The puck went off Brkin and to the front of the net, where Glass was waiting. It was a shorthanded goal, no less.
But the miscue didn’t faze Brkin in the slightest. The 19-year-old goalie was lights out the rest of the way.
“(Brkin) did a great job of just forgetting about it,” Lambert said. “Gosh, I thought he was real solid tonight.”
After the early deficit, Toporowski helped tie the game with a goal on the same power play at 4:52. Toporowski one-timed a nice pass from Nolan Reid.
Toporowski scored his second of the night after coming out of the penalty box and taking a clearing attempt in on Hofer for a breakaway goal.
“I was watching the clock and had about 2 seconds left on my penalty when we got the puck,” Toporowksi said. “(Reid) shot it down and I got out of the box and the puck was laying right there for me. It was a great play for Reid to have that awareness. We know the five-hole is there on (Hofer), so I just shot it through there and in.”
Woods gave Spokane some cushion 1:28 into third when he forced a turnover in Portland’s end and sent one past Hofer. Jared Freadrich was the victim for Portland.
Woods scored 1:45 later on a turn-and-shoot to give Spokane a 4-1 lead. Those two goals were big, as Spokane had surrendered a similar 2-1 third-period lead in a loss in Game 2.
“We learned from that game, for sure,” Woods said. “We made some mistakes in that second game and tonight we just locked it down. We were up 2-1 and it takes only one more goal to win and we did a great job.”
The Chiefs controlled the pace for most of the game and only played with fire late in the second period when Filip Kral and Jaret Anderson-Dolan were in the box at the same time. Seth Jarvis was also in the box for Portland after matching Kral’s minor with one of his own.
That sequence left Portland with a 4-on-3 advantage with two of Spokane’s top penalty killers in the box.
Instead of wilting, the Spokane penalty killers who were not in the box came up huge and killed both penalties late in the second and into the third. Shortly thereafter, Woods scored his two quick goals to take the air out of the Winterhawks’ sails.
“When were down 4-on-3, with the skill (Portland) has on the ice. It was a scary moment,” Lambert said. “It was a huge kill and there were a few huge kills, but that one specifically I thought it gave us momentum.”
The Chiefs killed all four of Portland’s power-play opportunities.
Lambert listed a number of players who contributed in big ways in the series. The Chiefs got goals from 10 skaters, and six of them had multiple goals.
Woods led the team with eight points in the series’ five games. The Chiefs converted on 54.5 percent of their power-play opportunities (6 of 11) in the five games.
The Chiefs move on to face the U.S. Division-champion Everett Silvertips in the second round. The best-of-seven series begins in Everett on Saturday.
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