Tri-City Americans

Ams can't capitalize on home ice, will face elimination in Everett

Everett forward Reece Vitelli (26) slides in front of Tri-City forward Isaac Johnson (23) while goalie Carter Hart (70) looks on during Game 4 of the WHL Western Conference finals on Thursday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Everett won 3-1 to take a 3-1 series lead.
Everett forward Reece Vitelli (26) slides in front of Tri-City forward Isaac Johnson (23) while goalie Carter Hart (70) looks on during Game 4 of the WHL Western Conference finals on Thursday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Everett won 3-1 to take a 3-1 series lead. Courtesy of Tri-City Americans

After earning sweeps in their first two playoff series for the first time in their history, the Tri-City Americans will play their first Game 5 of this postseason on Saturday, and the situation is anything but ideal.

The Ams fell behind 3-1 in the WHL Western Conference finals on Thursday, dropping Game 4 to the Everett Silvertips 3-1 at the Toyota Center.

It was business as usual for the Tips as they improved to 6-0 in road games this postseason and will try to close out their third straight series in five games at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Angel of the Winds Arena.

"Whether it's home or away, we've always said this year that we've gotta be able to hit the reset button," Everett coach Dennis Williams said. "Our focus is just on that 200-foot by 85-foot sheet of ice. But (the Toyota Center) is obviously a tough place to play and a good opponent, so my hat's off to our guys for being able to stay focused, stay in-tune and be able to play shift after shift out there."

After missing two chances to capitalize on home ice — lost Game 3 by a score of 8-4 on Monday — Tri-City saw its first series deficit of the postseason double, and now must try to stave off elimination. But with a talented roster featuring three overage players in forwards Maxwell James and Jordan Topping, and goalie Patrick Dea, the Ams are confident they can pull it together on the road.

"They're a proud group," Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said of the team's 20-year-olds. "They take a lot of pride in putting that jersey on and playing in front of our fans, so we want to go out and win another game, so we can take it back here and play another one in front of our fans."

Everett’s Riley Sutter opened the scoring at 9:48 of the second period, going unassisted to sneak one under Dea's glove from the nearside. Then Reece Vitelli, who scored just two goals in 70 regular-season games, notched his fourth of the playoffs with a couple minutes to go in the second for a 2-0 Everett lead.

Tri-City finally broke through against Everett goaltender Carter Hart when third-line wing Riley Sawchuck coralled a loose puck on the right circle, walked in and buried one in the net for his second playoff goal to halve the lead at 5:45 of the third period.

"I was kind of shocked when it went in," Sawchuck said. "I was surprised for sure, but it was nice."

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Scenes from Game 4 of the WHL Western Conference finals on Thursday at the Toyota Center. Everett won 3-1. Doug Love Courtesy of the Tri-City Americans

That spurred Tri-City's best flurry of the game. The Americans were able to create a ton of pressure in a 5-on-5 situation, but Hart was up to the task as he stopped 29 of 30 shots on the night. Dylan Coghlan beat Hart with a slap shot with about 5 minutes left in the game, but it rang off the crossbar and over the goal.

The score was put at its 3-1 final when Everett's Matt Fonteyne got the puck into open ice with an empty net, but was tripped by Topping while on the breakaway, awarding Everett the insurance goal.

Dea stopped 23 of 25 shots faced for Tri-City, and James and Juuso Välimäki picked up assists on Sawchuck's goal.

Dustin Brennan: (509) 582-1413, @Tweet_By_Dustin
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