KENNEWICK — The Western Hockey League's regular season ends this weekend, and in the Western Conference, there still are things that must be settled.
Kelowna (42-27-0-1, 85 points) has secured the B.C. Division crown after Vancouver wore it the last five years, but the U.S. Division title and the conference's top seed remain up for grabs.
Portland (48-18-0-3, 99 points) holds a one-point lead over Spokane (46-17-4-2, 98 points). Both have three games left, including a tilt against each other Sunday in Portland.
"It's a big weekend for us," said Spokane general manager Tim Speltz, whose team has never won a U.S. Division title. "We haven't had a season like this since 2008, when all the marbles were on the last game with Tri (Tri-City). We lost the U.S. title and the Scotty Munro that year, but won the Memorial Cup. The key right now is to win the conference and be the No. 1 seed."
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Everett, Prince George, Seattle and Kamloops are in a battle for the last two playoff spots.
The Silvertips lead the pack with 67 points, while PG is one point back, and the Thunderbirds and Blazers each have 63 points. Kamloops and PG each have two games left, while Everett and Seattle each have three.
"You look at the parity in the league, and every game means something," Speltz said. "Kelowna and Tri are welded into their spots, but everyone else is playing for something."
The Americans (41-24-2-2, 86 points), who won the last three U.S. Division titles and last year's Western Conference title, have battled injuries the last two months and are firmly entrenched in fourth place in the conference standings. They will have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs regardless of the outcome of their last three games.
Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said he's glad his team already clinched a playoff spot, but wishes his team had something more to gain.
"The challenge of fighting right to the end makes it exciting," Hiller said. "Right now, we are playing to make sure we are good going into the playoffs. Play well and you won't feel sorry for yourself. It's that simple."
Tri-City has won 40 games for the fifth consecutive season, but it is the first time in that span the Americans have not scored at least 96 points.
The Americans, who have lost six of their last 10 games, including an ugly performance Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to Everett, will play host to Chilliwack tonight and Spokane on Saturday. They will play at Seattle on Sunday.
"We have been pretty inconsistent the last little while," Hiller said. "We have to play better. That goes to individuals who don't have their game where it needs to be. We've been dealing with injuries long enough that we can't rely on that as a crutch anymore. That shouldn't affect the guys who are in. They need to raise the level of their game."
The Bruins (32-30-4-4, 72 points), who are 7-0-2-1 in their last 10 games, lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to Spokane on Wednesday in a shootout. Goalie Lucas Gore stopped 77 of the Chiefs' 78 shots before giving up two goals in the shootout.
"They are dangerous," Hiller said of the Bruins. "Gore has historically played well against us. I thought the best we played was in their rink a few weeks ago, but they had some injuries. We will see closer to their full lineup (today)."
Hiller was mum on whether leading goal scorer Adam Hughesman (39) or hard-working forward Mason Wilgosh would play this weekend. Hughesman has missed nine games and Wilgosh 11 because of knee injuries.
Neal Prokop, who returned from a horrific leg injury suffered in the playoffs last year, played 15 games before reinjuring the same leg Jan. 14 against Kamloops. He has skated in recent pregame warmups but still is on the scratch list.
"I don't want to speculate," Hiller said. "It's a moving target. We don't want to put a date on it. We are just making sure they are healthy, and once they are, they will play."