Conventional wisdom says the Spokane Chiefs shouldn’t be up 3-0 in their second-round playoff series with the Everett Silvertips.
The Chiefs have been outshot in all three games against the U.S. Division champs and are up against what is normally a stout defense and an all-star goaltender in Dustin Wolf.
Yet here they are, with a commanding 3-0 lead in the series thanks to a 3-1 win in Game 3 at the Arena on Wednesday night.
Adam Beckman scored the winning goal at 2 minutes, 21 seconds of the third period and the Chiefs didn’t allow Everett many scoring chances thereafter. Bailey Brkin stopped 29 shots in the win.
Ethan McIndoe and Jaret Anderson-Dolan had the other goals, with Anderson-Dolan’s coming with the net empty.
Wolf has allowed nine goals through three games. He entered the playoffs with a 1.69 goals-against average.
After losing six of eight games against the Silvertips during the regular season, the Chiefs decided to flip the game plan and rely not on their quality scoring depth, but their defense.
“We’ve pretty much been playing stellar defense. They’re not going to give up a lot,” Anderson-Dolan said.
“We were a pretty offensive team during the regular season and didn’t have a lot of success against them. We knew we had to beat them at their own game.”
The Chiefs were outshot 30-20 but held Everett to five third-period shots on net. Holding the lead in the third after Beckman’s goal wasn’t a new concept. The Chiefs have played with a third-period lead throughout the playoffs and have had success.
“(Everett was) a top team during the regular season and we knew they were going to push, and we had to push back,” Anderson-Dolan said. “The thing is, when you’re up like that, you don’t want to be on your heels. In the D-zone, we’re trying to attack back, and they’re not going to score when they’re in their own zone.”
Zone time is crucial against Everett, because the Silvertips make teams pay with a number of weapons, including Riley Sutter, who returned to game action after missing the past 15 weeks with an injury.
Everett dominated zone time in the first and second periods but could only muster a 1-1 tie after 40 minutes. After Beckman’s third-period goal, the Chiefs clamped down and kept things simple, keeping the puck out of their zone and keeping Everett at bay.
“We’re being outshot, but I don’t think we’re giving up a lot of Grade-A chances,” Anderson-Dolan said. “Most of their shots are point shots from their D-man and they got quite a few from the wall. Our defense isn’t giving up a lot.”
After being hemmed in their end for an extended period of time in the first, the Chiefs got a break when Everett’s Connor Dewar took an interference penalty. McIndoe made him pay when he tipped Filip Kral’s shot at 7:42 of the first. It was McIndoe’s fifth goal of the playoffs and third of the series.
The goal was also Spokane’s ninth power-play goal in 17 tries this postseason. The 52.9% conversion rate is tops in the league.
Just less than 2 minutes after McIndoe’s goal, Everett’s Robbie Holmes skated in on the rush and put one past Brkin to tie the game.
After the teams went scoreless in the second, Beckman took advantage of Wolf being slightly out of position to net the winner.
Chiefs head coach Dan Lambert is pleased with his veterans for leading the team in a series just about every prognosticator had going the other way.
“The leadership in that room has been really good, and I think it’s coming to fruition now,” Lambert said.
That leadership will need to come in handy. The Chiefs host Game 4 on Friday with a chance to sweep a team many thought would challenge for the league title.
For Lambert, he’s not looking too far ahead – he said he was only thinking as far as his 12:30 a.m. bedtime after the Game 3 win.
“Tomorrow morning we’ll review everything and practice for Friday’s game,” he said.
In the other WHL series, Edmonton wrapped up a 4-0 sweep of Calgary; Saskatoon forged a 2-all tie with Prince Albert; and Vancouver leads Victoria 3-0.
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