The Tri-City Americans will play the Spokane Chiefs in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, but what hasn’t been determined is who will have home-ice advantage for the best-of-7 series.
Each team has four games remaining in the regular season, including a key home-and-home series Friday (at Spokane) and Saturday (in Kennewick).
“It’s exciting,” said Tri-City veteran defenseman Drydn Dow of the last week of the season. “The last two games against Spokane are so important. With each game the adrenaline is pumping. They are all big games.”
The Americans (40-24-1-3) and Chiefs (41-25-2-0) are tied for fourth place in the Western Conference with 84 points. At present, the Chiefs hold the tie breaker with one more win than Tri-City.
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“We’d like to have them all,” Americans coach Jim Hiller said of this week’s games. “We’re going after it, for sure.”
It all starts tonight with a game at Seattle (23-37-7-2, 55 points), which is still trying to secure a playoff spot. The Thunderbirds have a one-point lead on Everett and are five points ahead of Prince George, which is at Spokane tonight.
The Americans are 5-3 against the Thunderbirds this season, but the wins have not come easy.
“They are a good team,” Dow said of the Thunderbirds. “They have played us tough all year. Every point is key. We have to make sure we play our game. I feel we can play with any team in the league when we play our game.”
“This time of the year, this deep into it, we know what we do well,” Hiller said. “It’s about doing those things well. We can only control what we do. We’ll take all the help we can get, but we don’t expect any.”
Tri-City will finish the regular season Sunday at Everett.
The Americans will finish the rest of the regular season without veteran defenseman Mitch Topping, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first period Friday in a 6-4 win over the Kootenay Ice.
Topping, who got encouraging news from the doctor Monday, may be able to return for the Spokane series.
“He will not play the next four games,” Hiller said. “It’s another challenge, for sure. Clint (Filbrandt) jumped in and played well against Prince George (on Saturday). We lose someone and someone comes in to fill those boots. We’ve been doing that all season.”
Tri-City general manager Bob Tory has brought in nine affiliate players to fill out the roster because of injuries this season. Toss in goalies Luke Lee-Knight and Troy Trombley, and that number goes to 11.
Today, forward Fraser Bulbuc, 18, who already has played four games for the Americans this season, will join the team in Seattle and stay through the weekend.
Brandon Carlo, 16, also will join the team in Seattle. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound defenseman from Colorado Springs can play up to six games under the USA Hockey/Hockey Canada/CHL agreement.
“Guys are stepping up and taking on a bigger role,” Dow said of the injuries. “It has been a difficult year, for sure. The older guys have given the younger guys extra help. We have the knowledge of what it’s like to go through a long playoff series and we are passing that along.”
The Portland Winterhawks, who claimed the U.S. Division title a couple of weeks ago, picked up the Scotty Munro trophy Sunday for the best record during the regular season with a 5-2 win over Victoria. The Edmonton Oil Kings still could catch the Winterhawks on points, but the Hawks hold the tiebreaker with more wins. .... The Kelowna Rockets captured the B.C. Division title Saturday with a 2-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers. ... Calgary forward Cody Sylvester was named WHL Player of the Week after scoring five goals with seven assists in helping the Hitmen to a 4-0-0-0 record. ... Erik Benoit of the Saskatoon Blades was named WHL Dickies Hardest Working Player of the Year.