Somewhere between Game 2 at Spokane Arena and Game 3 at the Toyota Center, the Tri-City Americans found their game.
The Americans, who lost the first two games of the best-of-7 first-round series in Spokane, returned home to beat the Chiefs 5-4 in overtime Tuesday to get back in the series.
Key for Tri-City was the return of veteran defenseman Mitch Topping and rugged forward Tyson Dallman.
“I think that is the important part,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of having a full lineup. “I think our team has its confidence back. It’s been awhile. We are a pretty strong team when we play with confidence and belief, and that’s back in full force.”
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The Americans also changed goalies after the first two games, replacing Troy Trombley with Luke Lee-Knight, who was 11-9-0-0 during the regular season, taking over in net after Eric Comrie suffered a season-ending hip injury.
“He played really well,” Hiller said of Lee-Knight. “It has been a crazy year with our goaltending, and for him too. He got to come in and play all of those games, then sit and watch for awhile. Myself personally, I’m happy to see him back doing his thing. The confidence and swagger is back in the team and he is a big part of that.”
The Chiefs held practice Wednesday afternoon in Kennewick, ironing out the wrinkles from Game 3.
“No game has been easy,” said Spokane coach Don Nachbaur. “It could have gone either way in any game. They are a good team and we give them credit for that. I thought we made some mistakes in the second period (Tuesday) when we had them on the ropes. You know what, they took advantage of that.
“This a fun time of year. A lot of ups and downs and highs and lows,” Nachbaur continued. “You have to learn to put the last game behind you and move on. We know we have to make adjustments. There were parts of the game last night where people could have played better, and as a team we could have played better.”
For the Americans, it was important to come back home and get a win.
“This is what we play for,” Americans captain Justin Feser said. “We didn’t like coming back 2-0, so we had to get the third game here. It was a big win for us. It was huge getting Tops and Dolly back. I think just in the dressing room, it was a big confidence boost for the guys.”
Feser, who led the Americans during the regular season with 44 goals and 106 points, has a goal and an assist in three playoffs games.
“Feser’s line hasn’t scored as much lately, but they are going to,” Hiller said. “It’s just a matter of time. You can’t keep them of the board for long. Fes’ goal was a big one last night. I think we have good balance there. That secondary scoring really has been carried by Ranks’ (Connor Rankin) line most of the year. It’s a good one-two punch with Feser and Rankin and we saw that last night.”
Rankin leads the Americans’ playoff scoring with one goal and four assists, while overage defenseman Drydn Dow has two goals — one that tied the score at 4-4 on Tuesday — and two assists.
“We’ve talked about him over the last couple of years and how much he has added,” Hiller said of Dow. “It’s always impressive to see a player elevate his game at 20. And he’s done that again in the playoffs.”
The Tri-City-Spokane series isn’t the only one that has seen it’s share of excitement.
Seventh seed Seattle has a 3-1 lead over No. 2 seed Kelowna, while top-seeded Portland leads No. 8 Everett 2-1.
Kamloops holds a 2-1 lead over Victoria. Game 4 is tonight at Victoria.
“It’s wide open,” Nachbaur said of the Western Conference. “Looking around at what’s going on, no series is over yet. One team could easily win one game and be back in it. That’s sports.”