Two down, two to go.
The Tri-City Americans have the upper hand in their first-round WHL playoff series against Vancouver, winning the first two games on home ice. Now, the Americans need to prove they also can win on the road as Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-7 series will be played at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver tonight and Wednesday.
"I think we need to play our best game of the series," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of tonight's game. "I'm ready for that, and I think our players are too. We've hit our stride as far as firing on all cylinders. It will be a big challenge for us to go in there and play our best game."
Tri-City won the opening game of the series 2-1 in overtime, and then held on 5-4 in Game 2.
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"We give up a couple of goals, we have to play back, and then we give up a couple more goals," Vancouver coach Don Hay said of the ebb and flow of Game 2. "You have to be more consistent in your play. You can't have so many peaks and valleys during the game."
Dating back to the Western Conference finals last year, Vancouver is 1-8 against the Americans and will have to win four of the next five games to advance.
"I think there are two teams that are going to play hard and two teams that want to win," Hay said. "They held court in Tri-City and they did what they were supposed to do. Now the ball's in our court. We have to come out and play a full 60 minutes and play at a high level."
Vancouver forward Brendan Gallagher, a first-team Western Conference All-Star, said it's important for the Giants swing the momentum in their favor in this pivotal Game 3.
"Obviously, last year Tri-City was the team that knocked us out of the playoffs, and that's a feeling we don't want to feel again," Gallagher said. "Being down 2-0, our backs are up against the wall. We've got to play very desperate hockey in Game 3. We'll find our how much we really care. We have a lot of character guys in the room that can go out there in Game 3 and get a win.
"We wanted to win a game (at Toyota Center). Bouncing back after being down 2-0 is something we feel confident we can do. It's not going to be easy whatsoever. Tri-City is a really good hockey team and they are going to compete, but we are up to the task."
The Giants haven't lost in the first round since the 2004-05 season -- Hay's first with Vancouver -- and Gallagher isn't one who wants to make an early exit.
"They play hard. They have a lot of talent in that locker room," Gallagher said of the Americans. "Obviously both teams are playing hard -- two one-goal games. We just have to find a way to win these close hockey games, and if we can do that, hopefully we can pull even."
The Giants, who have several players on the injured list, are hoping to have forward James Henry (knee) back tonight. Henry practiced Monday, but did not engage in contact.
The American still are without Adam Hughesman (knee), but he skated warmups Saturday, giving hope to a team that hasn't played 100 percent healthy all season.
"Injuries happen in this game and you have to take advantage of everything," said Tri-City defenseman Tyler Schmidt. "We had so many injuries during the season, we haven't played with our whole lineup yet. Once Hughesman gets back then it will be our first game with a full team and no injuries. They are a really good team even without some of their players. We are hoping to go in there and steal one, maybe both."
Tri-City used a complete team effort to win the first two games, from goaltender Drew Owsley to forward Patrick Holland, who played a major role in a pair of goals in the first period in Game 2.
"There are some players on your team that can make a difference by themselves in a hockey game, and I think we saw that on his goal and Feser's goal," Hiller said of Holland. "He took the puck long distance and made something happen at the end. We have depth, that has always been a strength of ours. If they shut one line down, we have another that is just as dangerous."
Owsley, who is 12-4 lifetime against Vancouver, had 25 saves in Game 1 and 28 in Game 2.
"The story for Drew has stretched two years now," Hiller said. "He has proven himself as one of the elite goalies in the league."