Chiefs look to narrow the gap on the Express

Since after Christmas, the Chiefs have been on a bit of a surge. Coming into Sunday’s action, Chilliwack is 26 points back of the league-leading Coquitlam Express. The Chiefs played the Express back to back to open the second half, losing both games in shootouts 5-4 and 3-2, respectively.

After New Years, the Chiefs alternated wins and loses. They lost in Surrey 3-1, came back and beat the West Kelowna Warriors 3-1 and lost to the Langley Rivermen 6-5. Chilliwack then played Coquitlam twice in six days. The first was on Jan. 11, where the chiefs throttled the Express 6-1. The Express looked to get back on  track six days later back at the “New Barn” Chilliwack Coliseum.

Clay Stevenson started for the Express and Mathieu Caron got the nod for the Chiefs. Clark Nelson opened the scoring for Chilliwack at 6:22 getting his 2nd of the year from Xavier Henry. Coquitlam got one back at 18:14 when Cooper Connell popped in his 13th from Adam Trotman. 44 seconds later Brett Rylance tallied his 11th from Trevor Adams and Arlo Merritt to put the Chiefs back up by one at the end of the first period.

The second period saw the Chiefs jump out to a two goal lead just 1:51 in when Tommy Lyons scored his 10th from Cooper Moore and Nikita Nesterenko on the power play. Then the game started to look like a playoff series. Nesterenko and Conner Gregga were each called for roughing after the whistle penalties. Moore then took a cross checking penalty which led to Coquitlam getting a goal back from Christian MacDougall – his 13th from Will Margel.

The third saw some more rough stuff. Henry took a 5 minute major for a blow to the head and a game misconduct, putting the Chiefs down to five defencemen. Coquitlam tied the game when Gregga notched his 12th from Greg Lapointe.

The game was sent to overtime – which solved nothing – putting it into a shootout for the third time in two weeks between these two teams. Chilliwack elected to shoot first, putting faith in Caron to make a stop if need be. First up for Chilliwack was Joey Larson, who was stopped by Stevenson.  The Express sent out Massimo Rizzo, who was thwarted by Caron. Next for Chilliwack was Adams and he scored. Express  answered on a goal by MacDougall. Nesterenko got another for the Chiefs, which was answered again by Margel. Brett Willits and Gregga were both stopped on their respective shots. Chilliwack sent Rylance out and he scored for the Chiefs, setting up a show down between Caron and Lapointe, who is the Express’ leading scorer. Lapointe cut to his right and Caron made a spectacular glove save to win it for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs look to continue their winning ways and close the expansive gap on the Express. Chilliwack is looking to at least have home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Chiefs and Express have had some very interesting playoff series in the past and if they meet in the playoffs again this one would be too. With  news that Stevenson is ineligible to play after March 3rd and Joe Howe hasn’t yet played a game since being acquired by Coquitlam, it should be interesting to see what effect that has on the Express down the stretch and into the playoffs.