The end of the season is near, and for the Tri-City Americans it could mean two games or an extended trip to the playoffs
“It goes by quick, especially after Christmas,” Americans coach Mike Williamson said. “The first month or two, they per se don’t drag on, (but) you get your feet under you. Once you return from Christmas, you are playing every second day.”
Tri-City (33-34-2-1, 69 points) hosts Seattle on Friday and Spokane on Saturday in two must-win games. The Americans are four points back of the Chiefs and Portland Winterhawks in the race for the final two remaining Western Conference playoff spots.
“We have to win our games,” Williamson said. “Our focus has to be on having a really good start, playing a solid 60 minutes and winning a hockey game Friday and repeating that Saturday. And we need a little help. We have played very well against some top teams and won some games against those teams. We have to play a Seattle team who is playing as well as they have all year. They are a strong team, and we have to make sure we have a strong start and use home ice to our advantage.”
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So, this is how things play out.
Tri-City can afford for either Portland or Spokane to earn points, but not both. Spokane plays at Portland on Friday. With the winner getting two points, the Americans cannot afford to see the game go into overtime — and thus the loser getting a point — or they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. Portland plays at Seattle on Saturday.
“We have to win our two games and get some help from Portland or some other team,” Williamson said. “We will be scoreboard watching.”
The Americans will move forward without forward Tyler Sandhu, who is out with an upper-body injury, and Max James, who drew a six-game suspension from the Western Hockey League for a cross-check major and a game misconduct at Spokane in March 11. The league noted that the hit was to the head of the opposing player and that James is a repeat offender.
“Tyler won’t be available this weekend,” Williamson said. “He’s played terrific for us since the Christmas break. He was a little inconsistent before that and didn’t have as strong a first half as we would have liked. Since then, he has been one of our top guys, top playmakers. He makes everybody he’s with on the ice better. It would be nice to have him in the lineup, but we have to move on and a find a way to win without him.”
The Americans also will need a solid game in net from goaltenders Evan Sarthou and Nick Sanders, who have been a little Jekyll and Hyde as of late.
“Both guys have shown they are capable,” Williamson said. “They have played well and won big games for us. We have confidence in both. A huge part of us having success this weekend is their play.”