When the Chilliwack Bruins opened their first round WHL playoff series with the Spokane Chiefs at home this past week, I’m sure they were hoping for a better fate. The Spokane Chiefs won the first two games of the series in Chilliwack. There is some hope for the Bruins going forward in the series, but it will take a minor miracle to do the truly improbable and win four of the last five against the Chiefs.
The Bruins started off the series holding their own. In fact they were up to the task of matching the Chiefs for the majority of the first two games. In the series opener the Bruins gave up the opening goal but then stormed back with two goals of their own by Mike Forsyth and Jamie Crooks to go up 2-1 through 40 minutes. The Chiefs tied the game 2-2 early in the third. Then, a brilliant opportunity for the Bruins with 15 seconds left in the game, when Jamie Crooks was in alone on a breakaway. Bearing down on Spokane Goalie James Reid and hounded by defenders from behind, Crooks just couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the net.
The game went into overtime, where both teams had chances, though admittedly, Spokane had the majority of them. The game was just settling in when Bruins defenceman Tyler Stahl made an ill-advised pinch at the offensive blueline and was caught up ice. Spokane made Chilliwack pay on the ensuing odd man rush as Darren Kramer netted the game winner – dashing the hometown crowd’s enthusiasm and optimism. Deservedly, Bruins goaltender Lucas Gore, who stood on his head all night, was awarded the game’s first star for his 60-save, 70-minute performance.
The second game of the series actually started stronger for the hometown Bruins. Chilliwack was outshooting the Chiefs 6-0 at the beginning of the first period, with about five quality scoring chances – even hitting a post. The momentum built from this was dashed by three consecutive penalties. The teams left the ice after the first period tied 0-0. From this point on, the Bruins were simply outmatched in every facet of the game. Spokane shelled the Chilliwack net with 47 shots en route to a 5-0 victory.
While the Bruins are down in the series, they are certainly not out. Chilliwack has shown that they can keep up with the Chiefs and make it a close game. However, if Chilliwack is to win, they will have to fix some problems. First, they have to keep Chief shots to the outside of the net and close the cross ice seam beside the net. Spokane works the one timer close to perfection, and you can’t afford to give them that option, or you will find yourself at the wrong end of a 5-0 loss.
The special teams need to get it in gear as well. In fact, if the power play had simply shown up, it could have been the difference in the first game. After two games, Chilliwack is 0-for-11 with the extra man, but has killed off just 9-of-12 penalties against. The other major change needed is on the first line; Roman Horak, Robin Soudek, and Ryan Howse need to score. They have been held off the score sheet in the first two games, and if they continue to be MIA, the Bruins simply will not win.