The race for the top spot in the Western Conference is down to a mere point after the Tri-City Americans knocked off the Portland Winterhawks on Sunday.
Portland (46-16-3-1, 96 points) still is at the top, followed by B.C. Division champion Kamloops (44-17-2-3, 93 points), and Tri-City (46-17-1-2, 95 points). Each team has six games remaining in the regular season.
"It's such a long season, and now it's winding down," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. "There are two weeks left, and positions 1-8 still need to be decided. We know what the middle looks like, but at the top and the bottom, there is a lot to be decided."
Kelowna, sitting sixth, is the one team that cannot move up, nor can it get knocked down a spot. Spokane and Vancouver are fourth and fifth with 78 points each. They will face each other in the playoffs, but home-ice advantage in the first round is up for grabs.
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Victoria is seventh with 48 points, one ahead of eighth-place Everett. Seattle has 46 points and Prince George 42. The Thunderbirds and Cougars will need a little help to jump up and snag a playoff spot.
Things will gets sorted out a little more tonight when Tri-City plays at Vancouver, Portland plays at Kamloops, Victoria visits Everett, Seattle plays at Prince George again and Spokane hosts Kelowna.
The Americans still aren't at full strength, and with forward Jordan Messier in the WHL doghouse, they must make do with who they have when they take on the Giants at Pacific Coliseum.
Messier will serve the second of a three-game suspension by the league for an elbowing infraction against Everett last Saturday. There was no penalty on the play at the time, but the league was asked to take a second look.
The Americans still are without defenseman Sam Grist (upper body) and forwards Marcus Messier (upper body) and Jesse Mychan (upper body).
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Grist has been missed the last six games. Not only does he log a lot of ice time on the blue line, but he's also one of the Americans' top penalty killers.
"Like anything, you never understand how valuable a guy is until you don't have him," Hiller said of Grist. "He makes a huge impact on our team. We went through that with Willie (Mason Wilgosh) and now with Sam. We got somewhat healthy there for a week for so."
Mychan thought he might be ready for Spokane on Friday, but results from tests Tuesday morning showed his hand wasn't completely healed and his doctor did not clear him for contact.
"It looks like it will be next Friday against Everett," said Mychan, who said his hand will be evaluated again next Tuesday. "It's not as I had planned. It's not fully healed and they don't want to take any chances."
Tri-City general manager Bob Tory is working to bring in newly signed Beau McCue, whose season with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes is finished. McCue, from Missoula, Mont., finished his season with 16 goals and 10 assists in 40 games.
"We are trying to get McCue in, but we are trying to get paperwork done with USA Hockey and the paperwork for school," Tory said. "He might be here by the weekend. We are hoping to get him in and practicing with the team."
The Americans are 2-1 against Vancouver this season. Their last meeting was a 5-4 shootout victory by the Giants on Feb. 14 at Toyota Center.
"Every game we have played lately has felt like a must-win," Hiller said. "Now, with everything so tight, everything gets magnified. We have a good history in Vancouver, but they came in and beat us a couple weeks back."
The Americans have gotten a lot of production from the top line of Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland the last couple of weeks, but Hiller said others need to chip in.
"We always believe someone is going to score, and we know who it usually is, but we need spread it out," Hiller said. "We have to spread out the defense to allow someone else to score that big goal."