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Thunderbirds

Critical Win Eludes Seattle As Spokane Inches Closer

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(Photo by Kyle Scholzen, WHL)

(Photo by Kyle Scholzen, WHL)

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(1090 The Fan) —The race for the four seed in the Western Conference playoffs just got that much tighter.

Two late third period goals allowed Spokane to inch closer to Seattle with a 6-4 win, Tuesday night. Spokane (39-24-3-3) now sits fifth, just two points behind the Thunderbirds in fourth place and three in front of Everett in sixth.

Mike Aviani scored two goals including the go-ahead marker for the Chiefs with just over five minutes to play. Connor Chartier added an empty-net goal at 18:37 to secure the victory for Spokane.

“Obviously that’s a stinger right there,” lamented Seattle captain Justin Hickman who had two assists in the loss. “I mean it would have been nice to have that one. I think we would have pretty much put our foot in fourth place right there.

“Spokane’s played us really hard all year and we’ve come out on top most of the time. It’s tough not to come out on top tonight.”

The result was a complete 180 degree turn for Seattle (40-23-2-4) against the Chiefs. With Taran Kozun in goal, the T-Birds had every reason to be confident about a victory considering  Kozun was 3-0 versus the Chiefs, all shutouts since he joined the T-Birds.

However, the T-Birds starting goaltender wasn’t himself, Tuesday. Kozun admitted that the bumping, screening and general harassment he received from Chiefs’ skaters all night rattled him. So instead of building upon a streak of 92 straight shots saved, Kozun allowed five goals on 42 shots.

“I lost my cool a little bit there,” admitted Kozun. “Usually it doesn’t bother me but tonight they were getting their bounces and I just got a little frustrated.”

In Kozun’s defense, the entire game played like a pinball machine — the puck was bouncing everywhere and no one could predict the final score.

All the entertainment started a little over eight minutes into the first period when a Spokane shot was deflected to the right by Kozun. The puck bounced awkwardly right to Chiefs’ forward Dominic Zwerger who tapped it into the vacant net, giving Spokane not only a 1-0 lead, but its first goal on Kozun in nearly 100 shot attempts.

Seattle answered shortly thereafter when Alexander Delnov threw a low shot that had caromed to him off the right boards through traffic and past Chiefs’ goalie Eric Williams.

Then it got particularly strange. Sam McKechnie, who was stationed in the trapezoid behind Spokane’s goal, ricocheted a puck off of a Spokane player’s skate, through Williams, off the post and in, giving Seattle a 2-1 lead at 10:42. Only, the lead lasted about as long as an Evan Wardley fight.

After the first period ended in a 2-2 tie, the scoring picked back up in the second. Spokane went ahead 3-2 1:37 into the frame on Aviani’s first goal, another fortunate bounce that found its way through an unsuspecting Kozun.

The T-Birds answered with two goals — one from Mathew Barzal at 5:42 and another by Ryan Gropp at 11:19 — to reclaim a 1-goal edge, 4-3.  Yet there was Spokane with another quick response, capitalizing on a power play at 15:51 thanks to left wing Hudson Elynuik’s third goal of the year.

The back-and-forth affair remained knotted at four goals apiece late in the third period when a T-Birds’ turnover found Aviani who then found himself 1-on-1 with Kozun. The goal at 14:34 was Aviani’s 37th of the year and put Spokane ahead to stay, 5-4.

It was the last regular season match between the two teams who are on track to face off against each other in the opening round of the CHL playoffs.  The only question that now remains heading into the final weekend is which team will have the home-ice advantage? With two points now separating them, it’s anybody’s guess.

“We have one huge weekend left and then the fun really starts,” Hickman said.

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SCORING SUMMARY

First Period

1. SPO Dominic Zwerger (16) (Whittingham, Proft), 8:18

2. SEA Alexander Delnov (29) (Troock, Wardley), 10:19

3. SEA Sam McKechnie (7) (Yakubowski), 10:42

4. SPO Adam Helewka (23) (Chartier, Fiala), 12:16

Second Period

5. SPO Mike Aviani (36) (Holmberg, McIntosh), 1:37

6. SEA Mathew Barzal (14) (Hauf, Hickman), 5:42

7. SEA Ryan Gropp (17) (Hickman, Barzal), 11:19

8. SPO Hudson Elynuik (3) (Wedman, Messier), 15:51 (PP)

Third Period

9. SPO Mike Aviani (37), 14:34

10. SPO Connor Chartier (13), 18:37 (EN)

-Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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