The Spokane Chiefs needed just one win to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Saturday night, they went out and got what they needed.
Brenden Kichton had the game-winning goal and an assist to lead the Chiefs to a 3-1 victory over the Tri-City Americans before a crowd of 3,889 at the Toyota Center.
“Getting the two-goal lead was huge. We weren’t good in a lot of areas, but we found a way to win,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “We had some good chances in the third. The penalty shot — you can’t get any better chance than that to seal the deal — but we couldn’t do it. But to their credit, they played hard and they made it hard.”
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Spokane won the first-round series 4-1, with its only loss coming in overtime in Game 3.
The Chiefs will have to wait for the results of the other Western Conference first-round series to find out who their next opponent will be.
“The 4-1 victory was huge. It gives you a chance to rest,” Nachbaur said. “We didn’t want to go back home and play two more games. The fifth game to seal the deal is tough and they made it hard. We competed hard at the very end. Our power play (1-for-7) wasn’t very good. Their penalty kill was hard. They came at us hard.”
It’s the first time the Americans have ended the playoffs with a first-round loss since 2007, a 4-2 series loss to Seattle.
“There are nights we scored six or seven goals with the chances we had tonight,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team outshot Spokane 37-34. “We did what we do. We worked hard all series. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It wasn’t for lack of effort. This team faced a lot of adversity and kept fighting to the end.”
The loss brought an end to the five-year career of Americans captain Justin Feser, who set the WHL Iron Man record earlier this month.
“I can’t thank the guys enough,” Feser said. “It was a great year. We gave it all we had. Every guy battled right to the end. We were trying to give it our last little bit, but the puck wouldn’t go in for us.”
Staked to a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes, Alessio Bertaggia looked to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead at 9:29 of the third as he was awarded a penalty shot.
Americans goalie Troy Trombley denied him with his right pad.
“Troy came in and played real well tonight,” Hiller said. “He gave us a chance. All those chances at the end just wouldn’t go.”
A minute later, Malte Strömwall cut the Chiefs’ lead in half as he took a pass from Mitch Topping and beat Eric Williams from the right face-off circle.
Feser also assisted on the goal, giving him 50 career playoff points.
Bertaggia finished off the scoring at 15:09, beating Trombley from the edge of the right face-off circle.
The Americans pulled Trombley for an extra attacker the final 4:01 of the game, but managed just four shots on goal.
“Outside of our organization, people thought that we might not be very good this year,” Hiller said. “We turned ourselves into a really good hockey team. We beat great teams. Feser, (Drydn) Dow, (Jesse) Mychan, sometimes guys top out, but we saw what great seasons they had. I really liked the fact the players got better and they enjoyed themselves.”
The Americans, who trailed 1-0 at the start of the second, found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-0 game at 7:50 as Kichton beat Trombley from the high slot on the power play.
Tri-City had plenty of opportunities to get back in the game, putting 17 shots on Williams.
But its came up short every time, including a short-handed breakaway by Lucas Nickles at 5:54, but Williams robbed him with his glove.
“He played real well,” Nachbaur said of his goalie. “Best game of the series for him, no question.”
In what started as a sluggish first period, the action picked up the last 6 minutes as the Chiefs scored on a flukey play and the Americans killed off two-plus Spokane power plays.
The Chiefs put the first goal on the board at 14:06 as Kichton’s shot from the left point was redirected by Mike Aviani, who as camped out at the right post.
Aviani stuck his stick out, the puck ricocheted off the stick, hit the crossbar and dropped in the net.