Tri-City Americans begin final playoff push

February 27, 2014 

The Tri-City Americans have been a fixture in the Western Hockey League playoffs for the past 10 years. If team captain Mitch Topping has his way, that streak will reach 11.

“Not going to happen,” Topping said of a possibility of missing the playoffs this season. “End of story.”

The Americans last missed the playoffs in 2002-03, when they won just 20 games and had but 44 points.

Since then, they have won four U.S. Division titles, a Western Conference title and played for a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2010.

This year has been a struggle for the Americans, who have had a rash of injuries throughout the lineup all season. Forward Phil Tot still is out of commission with a lower-body injury, and forward Taylor Vickerman had season-ending knee surgery Wednesday.

And, forward Jessey Astles still has three games remaining on a seven-game league suspension.

“It has weighed on our minds,” Topping said of the playoff situation. “We are in desperation mode. I have been in that position before when I was in Chilliwack. I’m just trying to pass that (sense of urgency) onto the guys.”

The Americans (27-28-3-5, 62 points), who have a slim two-point lead over Prince George (26-32-3-5, 60 points) for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, have nine games remaining and three games in hand on the Cougars.

Of Tri-City’s nine remaining games, seven are against the top five teams in the Western Conference — Kelowna (1), Portland (2), Seattle (1) and Spokane (3).

The final push starts tonight when the Americans, who have lost seven games in a row, play at Everett (31-23-7-2, 71 points), which sits sixth in the conference standings.

“If we play like we did last night the rest of the season, we will like the results,” Topping said of a 4-3 shootout loss Wednesday night to Kelowna, which leads the Western Conference with 104 points. “We were happy with the effort, we just have to keep it going.”

After Friday, the Americans are at Spokane on Saturday. It is the 10th of 12 meetings between the teams this season. The Chiefs lead the season series 7-1-0-1. Spokane, which trails the fourth-place Seattle Thunderbirds by four points, has won the last three games against Tri-City.

“We know when we play like we can, we give ourselves a chance,” Topping said. “We are going to bring it 20 guys strong.”

The Cougars will be at home for five of their last six games. They host Victoria for two games tonight and Saturday, entertain Spokane for two games next weekend, and finish with a home-and-home with Kamloops on March 14-15.

Victoria is 5-1-0-0 against the Cougars this season, while Spokane is 2-0-0-0, outscoring PG 11-5.

In the Western Conference, Kamloops has been eliminated from playoff contention, while in the Eastern Conference, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Lethbridge are out of the running.

Notes: Tonight’s Tri-City-Everett game can be seen on ROOT Sports at 7:30 p.m. ... Saturday’s game at Spokane will be on SWX at 7 p.m. ... The Portland Winterhawks, who are on a 20-game win streak, need two victories to equal a 47-year-old WHL record of 22 consecutive wins in a single season, set by the Estevan Bruins in 1967. ... Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice has a 21-game point streak in play — 18 goals and 47 points — since December 4.

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