Updated: Ams lose, trail 3-1 as series heads to Kelowna (w/gallery)

March 26, 2014 

When you poke the bear, it tends to bite back.

After dropping a game to Tri-City the previous night, the Kelowna Rockets roared back Wednesday with a 5-3 victory before a Toyota Center crowd of 2,189, putting the Americans on the brink of elimination.

Tyson Baillie had a goal and two assists as the top-ranked Rockets took a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.

“For the first half, I liked the way we played,” said Kelowna coach Ryan Huska, whose team won its first playoff game at Toyota Center since April 3, 2010. “It was important for us to get this win.”

The series heads back to Kelowna on Friday for Game 5. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet in Canada with a 7:30 p.m. start time, though it will not be available on TV in Kennewick.

“We have been meeting challenges all year,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “We needed a point in Portland to make the playoffs, and we got it. We need to get a win up there to bring it back here Saturday night. There’s nothing better than Saturday night hockey in Tri-City.”

Americans goalie Eric Comrie, who finished with 52 saves on 55 shots in Tuesday’s 4-3 win, didn’t have the same sterling performance Wednesday. He finished with 27 saves as Kelowna outshot Tri-City 32-28.

“We didn’t have a good start, but the last two periods we played well,” Hiller said. “We outshot them 12-5 in the third.”

The Rockets wasted no time in finding the net as Baillie’s cross-ice pass found Madison Bowey at the right post, where he had an open net behind Comrie at 4:24.

Kelowna took a 2-0 lead at 12:40 when Carter Rigby slipped the puck to Cole Linaker driving down the slot, and he beat Comrie for his first goal of the playoffs.

The goals just kept coming for the Rockets in the second as Justin Kirkland scored just 1:33 into the period for a 3-0 lead.

The Americans cut into the Rockets’ lead at 9:08, but it took an officials review after more than a minute came off the game clock to put the points on the board.

Brian Williams, who took a pass from Justin Gutierrez, shot the puck over Jordon Cooke’s left shoulder. The puck rang off the back bar and zipped out before anyone could tell if had actually gone in the net.

A review of the play at 10:16 confirmed the goal at 9:08. It was Williams third goal of the playoffs.

“I think my reaction said it all,” Williams said. “I was so fired up that they didn’t whistle it down. I knew that it went in. I was so relieved they reviewed it. It was kind of of shaky there for a second, because you never know. When they called it a goal, I was ecstatic.”

Marek Tvrdon put the Rockets up 4-1 at 14:21 on the power play, but the Americans struck back four minutes later.

Tri-City captain Mitch Topping took a pass across the blue line from defensive partner Brandon Carlo, skated the puck to the high slot and blasted it past Cooke at 18:27.

Each team scored a goal in the third, as Baillie notched his first of the playoffs for the Rockets at 3:53, and Justin Hamonic beat Cooke from the blue line at 14:21.

Hamonic intercepted a Kelowna clearing pass and the big man blasted the puck past Cooke for his first playoff point this season.

“When Hamo gets a goal and we don’t win, something’s wrong,” Hiller said. “He’s been a beast defensively all year. It’s nice to see him on the other side of that.”

Notes: The 55 shots Comrie faced Tuesday night were a season high. He faced 52 shots against Portland on March 11, and 50 shots against Portland on Oct. 16. ... Going back to the regular season, the Portland Winterhawks — who swept Vancouver in the first round with a 6-1 win Wednesday night — have won 31 of their last 32 games. ... The Saskatoon Blades parted ways with general manager Lorne Molleken and coach Dave Struch on Tuesday. The Blades finished the season with a 16-51-2-3 record and missed the playoffs, but will have the first overall pick in the WHL bantam draft May 1.

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