KENNEWICK -- The Tri-City Americans had a much needed day off Monday. With injuries and a short bench, the team needs all the rest it can get this week, playing five games in eight days -- four of which are on the road.
The Americans, who beat Vancouver 5-1 on Sunday at Pacific Coliseum, will play at Kamloops tonight, at Kelowna on Wednesday, at Spokane on Friday and will play host to Prince George on Sunday.
"It turns out not to be a bad week," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team has time off between most of the games. "It's a bit more refreshing and a chance to recharge the batteries a bit."
While Tri-City (39-21-2-2, 82 points) is playing to keep home-ice advantage in the playoffs, other teams in the Western Conference have more to fight for the last two weeks of the season.
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"Everything is so unsettled in our conference," Hiller said. "Kamloops is fighting to make the playoffs, and Kelowna is fighting to win (the B.C.) division. These are like playoff games with so much on the line."
The Blazers (29-34-3-1, 62 points) are tied for eighth in the Western Conference standings with Chilliwack, but after tonight, the Bruins will have two games in hand. Kamloops has lost three in a row.
Kelowna has a six-point lead on Vancouver in the B.C. Division, and joined Portland, Spokane and Tri-City this past weekend as the teams who have clinched a playoff spot.
The Rockets have won seven of their last 10 games and are looking to win their first division title in six years, breaking the impressive five-year run by Vancouver.
The Americans still are without leading goal scorer Adam Hughesman (39) who is out with a knee injury. Also out are forwards Mason Wilgosh (knee), Jordan Messier (shoulder) and Neal Prokop (leg). They welcomed goaltender Drew Owsley back to the lineup two games ago.
To fill the void at forward, the Americans brought in affiliate players Dylan Fluter and Lucas Nickles, and have moved defenseman Drydn Dow to forward to fill out a fourth line.
"Much has been said about the injuries," Hiller said. "We have a lot of young guys in the lineup and the veterans have been showing them the way. Having Drew back has brought a lot of confidence back to the team. He's a premier goaltender and that confidence is throughout the room and it comes onto the ice."
Owsley, who missed nine games with a knee injury, is 32-14-1-1 this season with four shutouts. He has won both games since his return.
With Hughesman on the bench, Brendan Shinnimin and Carter Ashton have taken the reins the last three games, combining for six goals and eight assists. Shinnimin ranks eighth in league scoring with 85 points.
NOTES: Everett was fined $250 "for failure to have player (Ryan Murray) appear for star of game awards at Tri-City" on Friday night. The Silvertips lost 3-2. ... Rich Preston, the GM and head coach of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, was ejected from a 5-3 loss at Kelowna on Saturday for a tirade that included throwing water bottles and a clipboard onto the ice when his team had a goal disallowed late in the third period. No fine has yet been handed out. ... Spokane forward Tyler Johnson signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Johnson has 48 goals and 58 assists this season (106 points). ... Portland forward Nino Niederreiter was name WHL player of the week after scoring seven goals with two assists in four games.
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com