A healthy Phil Tot is a dangerous player.
The Tri-City Americans overage forward, who battled injuries this year and last, is skating in his first career playoff series and has made a difference with a goal and an assist in the first two games against Kelowna in their first-round series.
“He does so many things,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “I have such an appreciation of him as a player. He does things that help us win that go unnoticed. He is valuable player.”
The Americans will need Tot and the rest of the team to be at their best tonight when they host the Rockets in Game 3 of their best-of-7 series. Kelowna won the first two games with identical scores of 3-1 at Prospera Place.
“I thought we played the first four periods very well,” Hiller said. “We lost a step and I’m not sure if it was physical or mental the last two periods. It’s going to take a full 60 minutes a game. It’s important for us not to get frustrated, and I thought we did Sunday. When you play a good team, you have to be more determined to score and stick with it. We have a good goalie (Eric Comrie) who always gives us a chance.”
Tot, who was limited to 15 games last season because of a concussion, has played 51 this season. He missed six weeks with a lower-body injury right before the playoffs, but he appears to be operating on all cylinders.
“I was out with a knee injury for a while, but the biggest priority was getting healthy for the playoffs,” said Tot, who had 15 goals and 38 points this season. “It’s been fun so far. We’ve been in the games — just a bounce here or there. Any bounce in a game can swing the momentum.”
Tot, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound native of Calgary, Alberta, gives the Americans a big presence in the middle, which was where he was when is scored Sunday night and assisted on Brian Williams’ goal Saturday.
But one goal a game isn’t going to get it done against the high-flying Rockets, who had the No. 2 scoring offense during the regular season and the third stingiest defense.
“The first game, everyone played really hard,” Tot said. “The shots were even and our D zone was pretty good. What we can do better is take the puck to the net. In Sunday’s game, we could have done that more.”
Games 3 and 4 are at Toyota Center, where the Americans typically are hard to beat. However, they were 19-14-1-2 on home ice during the regular season.
“We have a pretty good home record,” Tot said. “We are used to our ice and it’s nice to have our fans behind us. Hopefully we can pick up one, maybe two wins, and continue the series.”
Kelowna coach Ryan Huska was pleased with how his team played the first two games, but he also knows how hard it is to win at Toyota Center.
“This series has been close,” Huska said. “Both goalies have played well so far, and we have gotten the goals we have needed. We expect some good games down there — we know what that building’s like. It’s loud and they feed off that.”
Comrie has challenged the Rockets the first two games, and Huska doesn't see things changing tonight or Wednesday.
“It’s a challenge when you face a good goalie; you can’t get frustrated,” he said. “It’s Murphy’s Law: If you put enough shots on net, one is bound to go in. We have done a lot of things well. With any team in the playoffs, it comes down to intensity and your compete level. You have to leave everything on the ice. That’s what make this time of year exciting.”
“The playoffs are the most exciting time of the year and the most challenging,” he said. “You get buried if you aren’t full-on. We all enjoy the challenge. There is no better feeling coming into the locker room after you have battled and won. I want to be a part of that with them.”