Meltdowns are generally reserved for nuclear reactors, but the Tri-City Americans staged a massive one of their own Tuesday night.
The Americans squandered a 3-0 lead in the third period, then had to score late in regulation just to force overtime.
Levko Koper scored the game-winner at 6:39 of overtime to lead the Chiefs to a 5-4 victory over the Americans before a crowd of 6,083 at Spokane Arena to eliminate Tri-City from the playoffs.
"We came out flat (in the third)," said Americans captain Kruise Reddick. "Give them credit, they came out great and we didn't. I think we just sat back and tried to play too defensive and didn't stick to our game plan. It wasn't supposed to end this way. It's an empty feeling."
The Chiefs won the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series 4-2 and move on to play the Portland Winterhawks, who beat the Kelowna Rockets 4-2. Game 1 of the Western Conference finals is Friday at the Rose Garden.
"Down 3-0, we had two roads to take, the feel sorry road or try to build something for tomorrow," said Spokane coach Don Nachbaur. "Between the second and third we talked about momentum, trying to get the crowd into it. Tri did that to us and we learned our lesson. We got a goal on that first shift and rolled from there."
It was a disappointing end for the Americans, who swept Vancouver in the first round.
"They are an excellent team," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "You are always on guard that they are going to come and push. We didn't think the game was in hand because we had scored a few goals. In the end, we couldn't make a couple big plays when we needed to make them.
"Credit Spokane -- they played very well in the series, and our guys have nothing to hang their heads about. We could have been on the other side of this in my mind as easy as we are on this side."
Down 3-0 and without playmaker Tyler Johnson to start the third, the Chiefs came out with a sense of urgency, and were rewarded with three goals in a span of 1:57.
Darren Kramer redirected a shot from the point by Davis Vandane at 1:16, and Tanner Mort, with a nice cross-ice pass out of the corner by Dominik Uher, connected for his first goal -- and first point -- of the playoffs for a 3-2 game at 2:35.
Moments later, Blake Gal tied the score at 3, poking the puck toward the net from the top of the crease. On the video replay, it appeared that Tri-City goaltender Drew Owsley stretch across the crease and swept the puck out of harm's way.
After a long look at the play by the replay officials, who have an overhead view, the goal was awarded to Gal at 3:13.
Kenton Miller gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game at 8:57, bringing the puck from the right side of the net and putting it just out of reach of Owsley's glove.
"I thought we were spinning our wheels after Tyler (Johnson) got thrown out," Nachbaur said. "We had chances, it was the matter of burying a couple and building some momentum."
Down a goal, the Americans went to work on a 5-on-3 power play, and Adam Hughesman scored from his trademark spot -- backside of the goalie -- for his second goal of the night to knot the score at 4 at 12:39. It was the only shot on goal Tri-City had on the man advantage.
"It's all a blur to me," Hughesman said. "They came out hard, give credit to them. I don't what I think. It's a tough one to take. They are a great team, but I think they had the momentum after the huge comeback. We didn't have an answer for it."
The Americans were first to the net as Hughesman's shot from the left post went over James Reid's right shoulder at 6:03 of the opening period.
With 1:29 left in the first, Johnson upended Brendan Shinnimin at mid-ice. Johnson picked up a 5-minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct. Shinnimin went off the ice favoring his right leg.
Tri-City got off four shots on goal before the end of the first, and opened the second with 3:31 remaining the power play.
The Americans cashed in.
With Patrick Holland at the left point, he took a pass from Justin Feser, brought the puck to the high slot, let loose with a shot and the puck found its way past Reid at 2:42.
Holland scored again at 8:54, shooting the puck from just above the right baseline and beating Reid for his fourth goal of the playoffs.