For the second consecutive game, the Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs gave the fans a bit of free hockey.
In the end, Blake Gal scored at 5:10 to lead the Chiefs to a 4-3 victory over the Americans before an announced crowd of 3,384 on Thursday night at the Toyota Center.
We felt like we had control of the game at 3-1. We made a mistake and another penalty, Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. You know what? At the end of the day, they didnt execute. It hit one of our guys and went in. Thats the break. They can whine and complain about the overtime goal jumping over the stick, but at the end of the day, its about bounces and we got a bounce in overtime, and we didnt get them when we had a 3-1 lead.
With the win, the Chiefs take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 first-round playoff series. Tri-City will host Game 5 on Saturday in a 2-3-2 series format. Spokane would not have been able to host Game 5 because the NCAA womens West Regional is being played at Spokane Arena.
We got our swagger back, Nachbaur said. Weve played four good games. We have had enough chances in every game to win every game.
The Chiefs took a 3-1 lead early in the third period as Brenden Kichton, in a scrum at the right post, put the puck in the net at 6:35.
Never ones to give up, the Americans rallied in the final 5:20 of the period to tie the score and force overtime.
Working on the Americans fourth power play of the game, veteran defenseman Mitch Toppings shot from the point beat Spokane goalie Eric Williams at 14:40 to close the gap to 3-2.
With less than 3 minutes to play, Drydn Dow took a pass across the crease from Malte Strömwall and put the puck in the left side of the net to tie the score at 3-3.
It was a really nice pass from Malte, Dow said. He just looked up and saw me there and made it easy for me. I had an empty net. I think I have been playing pretty well. I think as a team, we have been playing pretty well. A bounce here or there, and these games could be different. Credit Spoke, they have been playing well. It has been a good series so far.
Just 20 seconds before Dow scored, Americans goalie Luke Lee-Knight stopped Mitch Holmberg on a breakaway. Lee-Knight had 39 saves during regulation.
We talked about the last game fighting back from 4-1, 3-1, thats what this team does, Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. Im happy for Dowsie. Hes not a goal scorer, but heres somebody whos fought for years and scores the biggest goal of his career to get us there. We had chances. We just came up short.
The game was 2:02 into overtime when Spokanes Adam Helewka lost control and slid into Lee-Knight after he made a save. He left the game holding his left arm.
We were disappointed for him, Hiller said of Lee-Knight. Hes gone through a lot of adversity and got himself back in this series, and then he has to exit stage left. Hes OK, but hes not OK. He made some really big saves and gave us a chance to get even.
Troy Trombley came in and promptly had a big pad save on Connor Chartier at 3:30, but he couldnt stop Gal in the end.
It has been gut-check time for a long time, Hiller said. We know how we are going to respond. Every time we have had to, we have come up with a great effort.
The Americans opened the scoring in the first as Justin Feser took a nice pass from Strömwall in the slot and beat Williams up high at 9:25.
The Chiefs would come back with a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead at the end of the period.
On the first, Gal was checked into the net by Tri-City defenseman Justin Hamonic, knocking down Lee-Knight.
Gal and Lee-Knight got tangled up in the crease, and by the time Lee-Knight picked himself up off the ice and got a sense of the action, Helewka was firing the puck from the left circle and into the net at 15:38.
The Chiefs went out front, 2-1, at 19:20. Lee-Knight stopped Dylan Walchuk on a breakaway, and as he tried to sweep the puck out of the crease, Todd Fiddler jumped in and pushed the puck into the net.
In a tight-checking second period, neither team was able to find the net, but not for lack of trying. The Americans had three power plays in the period, but the Chiefs penalty kill was solid. At the other end, Lee-Knight turned away all 12 Spokane shots.
Notes: Connor Rankin was credited with Tuesdays game-winning goal in overtime. The goal originally was given to Parker Bowles.
w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tchicequeen