Against all odds, the Spokane Chiefs have advanced to the WHL’s Western Conference Final.
After finishing the regular season with 87 points – undoubtedly impressive but also a total topped by seven teams – the Chiefs have put together a postseason run that has seen the squad drop just two of its 10 appearances, counting a five-game series win versus the U.S. Division rival Portland Winterhawks in the quarter-final, only to follow up that performance by upsetting the favored Everett Silvertips in the second round.
An underdog group whose regular-season top scorer in left-wing Riley Woods finished with 75 points but outside of the top-20 point producers league-wide, the Chiefs bring a pack mentality and balanced scoring attack that has lifted the team to the conference final for the first time since 2011. Through two rounds, Woods leads the way with 11 points, but he is closely followed by Los Angeles Kings prospect Jaret Anderson-Dolan with 10 points, then rookie left-wing Adam Beckman, who has collected five goals and four assists as he continues to impress ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Against Everett, the Chiefs knocked off a club with two players who cracked the 70-point plateau and a second-year goaltender in Dustin Wolf who often appeared unbeatable during the regular season. But it simply wasn’t enough to hold off a Spokane squad that has seemingly found its game at the right time and can, in part, point to its special teams play as a reason behind its success. On the power play, the Chiefs have capitalized on 12 of their 25 opportunities, firing at a rate that is nearly 15% better than the next best club, while the team has also been stifling the opposition when down a man, allowing just four goals against on the penalty kill, good for 85.7% proficiency to rank second-best in the playoffs.
The Chiefs are also getting plenty of support between the pipes as netminder Bailey Brkin continues to stymie the opposition. In all, through 10 postseason appearances, he leads the Western Hockey League with a spectacular .931 save percentage, including four games in which he has limited the opposition to a single goal against.
With the Winterhawks and Silvertips now in the rearview mirror, the Chiefs turn their attention to finding the win column four times against a Vancouver Giants squad that is not only riding a six-game win streak, but a team that also took three of four regular-season contests versus Spokane en route to ranking atop the Western Conference with 101 points, its third-best finish in franchise history.
But after what has so far been a storybook postseason, there is no reason for the Chiefs to suddenly lose faith, certainly not in the eyes of Woods.
“It has been a blast so far,” Woods told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post. “To get to the third round is something pretty special. It’s going to be tough. Vancouver has a good team but I think we match up pretty well against them.”
The third round of the Western Hockey League postseason begins Friday when the Spokane Chiefs will go head-to-head with the Vancouver Giants. For complete WHL playoff preview coverage, click here.