Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart

The Spokane Chiefs put a wrench into the Victoria Royals run for a playoff spot with a 4-2 win Tuesday evening in Victoria.

Victoria (ISN) – The Victoria Royals missed a golden opportunity to separate themselves from the bottom of the pack in their Western Conference playoff race by surrendering a goal with less than four minutes remaining in the game to go down to a 4-2 defeat to the Spokane Chiefs in WHL action Tuesday evening in Victoria.

Looking to win their third game in a row and strengthen their hold for seventh place over the Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips and Prince George Cougars, the Royals gave Jared Rathjen his fourth start in a row against the fifth place Chiefs.

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Victoria’s Robin Soudek breaks in on net just prior to being tripped up by Spokane’s Brenden Kichton in first period action Tuesday.

The Royals would have the upper hand early in the first period, getting a solid chance on a breakaway by Robin Soudek, despite being hauled down on the play. The Royals used an ensuing power-play to pepper a few shots at Chiefs starter Mac Engle and were outshooting the Chiefs at one point 6-2.

This hard work would pay of at the 5:17 mark of the period, when Dakota Conroy got the Royals on the board by stuffing the puck under the pad of Engle during a goalmouth scramble.

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Dakota Conroy celebrates his first period goal, which would give Victoria the early 1-0 lead Tuesday.

After the goal, the tide turned a bit in the Chiefs favor and they started to take the play to the Royals, ultimately outshooting them for the period 12-8.

The Chiefs would be rewarded with 7:36 remaining , as an initial shot was stopped on an excellent save by Rathjen, but the Royals defense could not clear the puck and the Chiefs Mitch Holmberg would bang home his 25th of the season to knot things up at 1-1.

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Spokane’s Mitch Holmberg would score his 25th goal of the season in the first period Tuesday, tying the game at 1-1.

The tight playoff atmosphere and tight checking in the period also resulted in the evenings first scrap of the night as the Royals Tim Traber and the Chief Captain Darren Kramer locked horns on a centre ice tilt.

A power-play late in the period would give the Royals a chance to take the lead, however it was Spokane who ended up with the best opportunities, including a breakaway chance by Dylan Walchuk which was stymied by a great glove save by Rathjen with under a minute to go.

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Victoria’s Hayden Rintoul looks for a scoring lane during first period action Tuesday.

In the second period, both teams would have their chances with Spokane outshooting the Royals 13-11, but solid goaltending, notably some big saves by the Royals Rathjen, who finally seems to be finding his way in the Royals crease, would keep the score knotted at one.

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Goaltender Jared Rathjen made his fourth start in a row for the Royals and played well, stopping 29 of 32 shots and earning the second star of the game for his efforts.

Despite his solid play in the blue paint, some misadventures in playing the puck outside the crease almost cost Rathjen, and in one instance, only a hustling back check from Brandon Magee kept Spokane’s Dominik Uher from putting the puck into an empty net.

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With goaltender Jared Rathjen well out of position, Victoria’s Brandon Magee hustles to deny Spokane’s Dominik Uher an easy scoring opportunity.

The period also featured the second scrap of the game when Spokane Captain Darren Kramer picked his second fight of the night, this time with Royals monster defenceman Keegan Kanzig. Kramer may have regretted that decision however, as Kanzig appeared to get the upper hand in the battle.

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It was another helmet popping fight night at the rink Tuesday, as Victoria’s Keegan Kanzig, snuck a left under the chin of Spokane Captain Darren Kramer during a second period fight.

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The ice chips were flying as the Royal’s Brandon Magee tried to get the jump on Spokane’s Steven Kuhn during the second period Tuesday.

The third period began ominously for the Royals as Spokane would score just 1:30 in as Collin Valcourt made good on second opportunity shot, wristing it past Rathjen for the 2-1 Spokane lead.

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Despite being sandwiched between Spokane’s Jason Fram (2) and Darren Kramer (22), Victoria’s Steven Hodges would somehow find a way to dish this pass off and provide the assist on Jamie Crook’s tying goal in the third period.

The Royals would respond though, as goal scoring machine Jamie Crooks would get some luck when his shot off the wing deflected off a Spokane player and up over Engel, tying the game with 12:34 remaining.

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A third period goal by Victoria’s Jamie Crooks, his 33rd of the season, would tie the game 2-2.

After that, both teams would exchange power-play opportunities to no avail, and then with 3:20 remaining, Spokane’s Steven Kuhn swooped into the slot off the wing and dished a nice pass to a wide-open Blake Gal at the side of the crease, who made no mistake in putting the puck past Rathjen for the 3-2 lead.

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Spokane’s Blake Gal would be denied this scoring opportunity, but would later score the game-winning goal for the Chiefs in their 4-2 victory Tuesday.

The Royals would call a time-out and pull their goalie with 1:15 remaining and the face-off deep in Chief’s territory, but after a clean face-off win, a point shot was blocked and bounced out to centre ice, where it was picked up by Spokane’s Corbin Baldwin and deposited in the empty net, sealing the 4-2 Spokane win.

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Victoria’s Zane Jones uses his size in attempt to screen Spokane goaltender Mac Engel during third period action Tuesday.

Making the late-game loss even more painful for the Royals was the fact that both Seattle (3-1 to Tri-City) and Prince George (3-2 to Medicine Hat) also lost, meaning the Royals still sit just two points ahead of eight place Seattle, three points up on ninth place Everett (who was idle Tuesday) and six points up on tenth place Prince George in the battle for the final playoff positions in the Western Conference.

The Royals and Chiefs will go at it again Wednesday evening, with a 7:00 start at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

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Spokane’s Corbin Baldwin would put the icing on the cake Tuesday with an empty net goal in the Chief’s 4-2 win over Victoria.