SPOKANE — There’s nothing like taking the first game of a playoff series from your biggest rival in their own barn.
Kruise Reddick and Jordan Messier each had a goal and an assist, and Drew Owsley finished with 34 saves as the Tri-City Americans beat the Spokane Chiefs 3-1 on Saturday night before a crowd of 8,215 at Spokane Arena.
“This was a huge game for us,” Reddick said. “They earned home ice and we were happy to steal one. They came back after our second goal and fought back. To the final horn, it was a battle.”
Game 2 is tonight in Spokane. The series moves to Toyota Center for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday.
“Spokane and Tri-City are going to be tough games,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “I’m proud of our guys. We are healthy and strong. What was key was every guy who stepped on the ice gave everything they had and we played the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
It was the first regulation loss for the Chiefs in the playoffs, who trail the Americans by a game in the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series.
“That was a good playoff game,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “We had a chance to make a game of it when it was 2-1, but we missed an empty net and shot it off the glass. We had some good looks.”
The Chiefs trailed 3-1 in the closing minutes, and pulled goaltender James Reid with 2:05 left in the game. Spokane managed two shots on goal, but couldn’t find the net.
“They buried their chances and we didn’t,” Spokane forward Tyler Johnson said. “They wanted it tonight and they deserved it. Hopefully we can bounce back (today) and get the win.”
The Americans held a 2-1 lead after two periods and Carter Ashton was in a key position to make it 3-1 when he was awarded a penalty shot at 4:13 after he got hauled down by Spokane’s Tyler Johnson, but he put the puck in Reid’s pads.
“That was just one skirmish in the war,” Nachbaur said.
Messier gave the Americans a 3-1 lead at 9:38, coming down the slot and taking a feed from Reddick.
Messier’s shot went over Reid’s shoulder and was in and out of the net before Reid could react.
Owsley, who is 5-0 in the playoffs with a sterling 1.31 goals against average, said a busy night is what he prefers.
“I knew they would shoot a lot, and for the most part we kept them to the outside,” said Owsley, whose save percentage for the playoffs is .947 “The first five minutes I had a couple of rebounds I didn’t like, but after that I settled down.”
The Americans got off to a quick start, scoring just 3:41 into the game as Reid gave up bad rebound on a shot by Messier and Reddick cleaned up, putting the puck in the net at the left post.
Tri-City would take a 2-0 lead at 14:03 as Brendan Shinnimin tucked the puck inside the right post with a helper from Adam Hughesman.
Spokane, which outshot Tri-City 18-11 in the first period, finally found the net at 16:23 as Owsley closed off the right post, prompting Matt Marantaz to slide the puck across the crease to Steve Kuhn, who beat Owsley over his right shoulder.
A scoreless second period finally brought the first penalties of the game and a short power play for each team. The action was fast and furious, but both goalies did an exceptional job of keeping the puck out of the net.
Owsley stopped back-to-back shots by Dominik Uher and Tyler Vanscourt around the top of the crease before covering the puck at 13:38.Notes: Owsley tied Chet Pickard for first on the Americans playoff wins list with 17. ... The game had just five minor penalties, including Johnson’s hook that gave Ashton the penalty shot. Each team was 0-for-1 on the power play.