Americans face elimination game at Kelowna on Friday

March 27, 2014 

It may be warm and sunny in Claremont, Calif., but Brian Williams isn’t ready to go home yet.

Williams and the Tri-City Americans trail the Kelowna Rockets 3-1 in their Western Conference first-round playoff series, with do-or-die Game 5 at Prospera Place tonight.

“We knew we could play with them it’s just trying to doing it consistently — two games in two nights,” Williams said of splitting the two games at Toyota Center. “Going into Friday, we are going to have to bring it again, but I don’t think that is going to be much of a challenge for us to be honest, because it’s do or die. Everything is on the line with this game.”

Tonight’s 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. If needed, Game 6 will be Saturday at the Toyota Center.

The Rockets won Games 1 and 2 on home ice last weekend, while the Americans won Game 3 on Tuesday, but dropped Game 4 on Wednesday. The Rockets would like to finish the series at home, but coach Ryan Huska knows it’s not a given.

“We put ourselves in a position where we can finish this, but it will be the toughest game of the series (tonight),” Huska said. “We have to make sure we have our best effort because we will see Tri-City’s best. All four games have been good games and they have been close games. It kind of could have gone either way at one point in the course of the games, and they have been close because there have been two good goaltenders playing. We expect the game (today) to be close, as well.”

The Americans, who haven’t won at Kelowna since Sept. 29, 2010, will have to sweep the demons aside if they want to keep their season going.

“That is a tough building for sure,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. “We’ve been in that building a couple of times for playoffs since I’ve been here. It’s just a challenge. We have to win to stay alive. It’s a national TV game, a chance to show what we are all about. We will be ready to play. With all the adversity we have faced, I’d like to think we are battle tested.”

The one player the Americans have been able to count on throughout the series has been goalie Eric Comrie. Had 52 saves in Tuesday’s 4-3 win and has a .923 save percentage in the series.

“We need everyone chipping in,” said Williams, who has three goals and five points in the series. “We need everyone top to bottom, defense, young guys, old guys old chipping in. Doesn’t have to be a goal, just a good play. We know Eric will stand on his head.”

Williams knows of what he speaks. He and Comrie grew up playing together in southern California, and the Americans selected them in the 2010 bantam draft.

“We’ve been through all sorts of tournaments and championships together,” Williams said. “ I know what he can do, he’s seen what I can do. We have each other’s backs — that’s a way of putting it. We know we can lean on each other. When the game is on the line, we know we are going to play the best we can.”

Tyson Baillie, who leads the Rockets with five points in the playoffs, said the key to winning Game 5, will be keeping Comrie busy.

“We have the advantage up on them right now but Tri-City, we expect a hard game from them in Game 5,” Baillie said. “It has been a close series. Tri-City is a hard-working team, they have depth and Comrie has been standing on his head lately. We need to get pucks deep and get pucks on Comrie and crash the net, that’s how we have had success so far.”

Jordon Cooke has been just as impressive for the Rockets. He has a 2.26 goals against average and a .927 save percentage in the series.

“I thought (Cooke) was our best player (Wednesday),” Huska said. “When we needed him to make some saves, he was there to make big ones. There were some that were longer shots I think he would like to have back. He made some saves on shots he probably has no business making. He was there for us.”

Notes: Americans F Jessey Astles took a puck to the foot at the end of Wednesday’s game. Hiller said he expects Astles to play, but isn’t sure he’ll skate a regular shift the entire game. ... Kelowna F Myles Bell, who led the Rockets in scoring during the regular season, left Wednesday’s game with about 4 minutes left in the second period after getting tangled up with Tri-City’s Beau McCue, and did not return. He suffered a lower-body injury, but the Rockets were not forthcoming about his status for tonight’s game.

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