Uphill climb as Bruins hit road

Eric J. Welsh,

The Progress

Jeff Einhorn was fine with the first few questions, even if they weren’t happy ones.

The first period was good, but what happened in the second?

When Spokane kicks it up a gear, are  you guys capable of matching?

What’s wrong with the power play?

The 20-year-old defenceman answered them all, right up to the last one.

The possibility exists that you’ve played your last game in Chilliwack. Any thoughts?

“Yeah, I’ve got no comment about that,” Einhorn said, heading back to the safety of the dressing room.

Aaaaaand, interview over.

Honestly, Einhorn’s answer was expected. Hockey players are all about taking things a game at a time. It’s entry number one in the cliche handbook, and a 20-year-old veteran leader isn’t going to even entertain the possibility that his team won’t be back in Chilliwack for game six.

But after two home games, a 3-2 overtime loss in game one and a 5-0 loss in game two, even Einhorn would have to admit they’ve got an Everest-esque mountain to climb. Now facing three straight at Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Chilliwack’s backs are pressed firmly against the wall.

“Start with the first period of the first game in Spokane,” Einhorn said of the uphill climb. “We’ve got to get ready to play a full 60 minutes, without taking any shifts off. Hopefully, we get that next game and then we get on a roll.”

The Bruins spent most of Friday’s game one looking like they didn’t belong on the same ice surface as the Chiefs, and the shots on goal reflected the disparity in play (63-24).

The first period of game two was much better for the home team, who showed they could skate with the big boys.

Chilliwack got the first six shots on goal. Dylan McKinlay and Jamie Crooks both had nice chances in tight and Roman Horak came within a whisker of a goal on a power play, ringing a shot off the cross-bar. But for a lack of puck luck, the Bruins may have had an early lead.

“I thought we came out hard, ready to go off the drop of the puck,” Einhorn said. “We were getting pucks to the net, out-shooting and out-chancing them. But you’ve got to work for your puck-luck and we didn’t get it.”

Chilliwack goalie Lucas Gore didn’t face a shot until the game was six-and-a-half minutes old, but he came through with some big stops. Spokane had a couple near-misses on a late power play, including a shot that hit Gore square in the face-mask. His efforts helped the Bruins escaped to the middle frame tied at zeroes, but when the Chiefs stepped it up in period two, Chilliwack didn’t have an answer.

Spokane opened the scoring 2:32 into the middle frame after a shift of pure domination. Defencemen Mitch Topping and Zach Habscheid got into chase mode and left Kenton Miller with a clear lane to the net. The 19-year-old Saskatchewan native beat Gore from 15 feet out with a stick-side wrister.

The Chiefs doubled the lead four minutes later on a power play goal by Dominik Uher. With just nine seconds elapsed in a Tyler Stahl interference minor, the Czech import collected the rebound from a Brendan Kichton point shot and shoveled a backhander through Gore’s legs for his first of the series.

The clinic continued late in the period. Steve Kuhn earned the assist on Spokane’s third goal, driving wide around Einhorn and dishing a perfect centering pass to Blake Gal.

His tap-in put the Chiefs up by three.

Shots on goal reflected Spokane’s ownage of the middle frame, favouring the Chiefs 24-9, leading to that question about Chilliwack’s inability to match Spokane’s top gear.

“We knew they were going to come out strong and we didn’t match it,” Einhorn conceded. “They started out-working us down low and we can’t have that. We have to find a way to overcome that push and push back. Absolutely without a doubt we can match them.”

Miraculous comebacks weren’t on the menu on this night as Spokane efficiently put this game to bed. The Chiefs got their fourth goal at 8:27, with Kuhn crashing the net to punch home a centering feed from Matt Marantz.

The most entertaining third period moment for the home crowd was watching a happy-face balloon do a slow-motion descent to ice-level deep in the Spokane zone. Like the balloon, the Bruins ended up going quietly.

Chiefs forward Darren Kramer added the game’s final goal on a late power play. On the topic of power plays, Chilliwack’s sixth-ranked unit has produced a donut so far in the series, going 0-for-11 against Spokane’s top-ranked penalty kill.

Any hopes of a comeback may rest with turning the PP around.

“The power play has to work harder than the PK,” Einhorn said. “You’ve got five, they’ve got four and you’ve got to make the most of it. We need to get back to the basics, getting pucks and bodies to the net.”

This series continues Wednesday, Thursday and (if necessary) Saturday in Spokane. If the Bruins take two of three to force game six, it will be Sunday night  (5 p.m.) at Prospera Centre.

Get more series coverage in the Friday Progress.

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