KENNEWICK — Goaltending and special teams have played a pivotal role in getting the Tri-City Americans to the Western Hockey League finals.
Over the course of the first two games against the Calgary Hitmen, the Americans' penalty kill has been good, but the power play has lacked power and goaltending has been substandard.
Game 3 of the best-of-7 series is tonight at Toyota Center, while Game 4 is Wednesday.
"I think we have to exhale," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "We came in (to Pengrowth Saddledome) and they held serve. I thought they played really well and we didn't get done what we wanted to get done. We are going to have to adjust it and put this behind us -- as much as we'd like to change it we can't -- and really, really focus on the first period starting (tonight). It will be an exciting time for our team and our fans. We are going to have to put all of our energy directed at being good."
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Tri-City is 0-for-12 on the power play, a credit to Calgary's penalty kill and smothering defense.
"We have to get into it early, get the first one early and get our crowd into it," said Tri-City forward Johnny Lazo, who has the only goal for the Americans in the series. "It can be an intimidating place to play when our fans are loud and proud. We definitely have to be better on the power play. As one of the older guys on the power play, (I) know we have to do a better job. We'll figure stuff out."
Tri-City has relied heavily on goalie Drew Owsley throughout the playoffs -- he was named Western Conference finals MVP. But against the Hitmen, he hasn't shown the poise he did the first three rounds.
"I think at this stage, he has a lot of experience and is technically sound," Hiller said. "He has to be confident, get out of crease and be big. It's easier said than done."
Owsley was pulled in both games, and Alex Pechurskiy took over. In Game 2, Pechurskiy stopped 25 of 26 shots.
"Alex came in and played really well, but Drew has been really good all year," said Hiller, who said he'd name his starter today.
The Americans had a short skate Monday and are looking forward to playing on home ice.
"We are glad to be home," Hiller said. "We worked on a couple of things, but at this stage of the game you just have to stay sharp."
Calgary, which has won six games in a row, has made things look easy the first two games, outscoring the Americans 11-1 and getting solid goaltending from WHL goaltender of the year Martin Jones, who is 14-6 with a 2.40 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.
Martin also has played a big part on the penalty kill. The Hitmen have killed off the last 27 power plays, dating back to the Eastern Conference finals against Brandon.
The Hitmen will have to face not only the Americans tonight, but also their rowdy fans at Toyota Center, where Tri-City is 6-3 in the playoffs.
"For us to be successful, especially going into that building, with the confidence they play with and the fans and their enthusiasm, we are going to have to be extremely alert, focused and sharp and not have any stretches where we turn the puck over," said Calgary coach Mike Williamson.
NOTES: Tri-City owners Olie Kolzig and Stu Barnes are asking fans to wear white for a whiteout tonight and Wednesday. ... Calgary forward Brandon Kozun was named WHL player of the week after Kozun scoring one goal with three assists to go with a plus-4 rating in two wins over the Americans.