KENNEWICK — The Calgary Hitmen are one win away from punching their ticket to the Memorial Cup.
Martin Jones finished with 29 saves and four different Calgary players scored as the Hitmen defeated the Tri-City Americans 4-1 to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Hockey League finals Tuesday night before a rowdy crowd of 4,699 at Toyota Center.
The Americans, making their first appearance in the finals, have been overmatched in the series, but aren't waving the white flag.
"We came out and did what we wanted to do," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "We wanted to get a lot of pucks to the net and get the building into the game. We played hard the whole game, and I thought we tested Jones tonight maybe more than the other two games combined. I thought tonight he was the difference."
The Hitmen, who are playing in the finals for the third time in 15 years, are looking for their first WHL title since 1999.
"I thought, as expected, the start of the hockey game was fast and furious with Tri-City coming out hard," said Calgary coach Mike Williamson. "I thought we weathered the storm -- they had some good scoring chances. Once we got things going, much like the first game, we capitalized on our chances and that ended up being the difference."
Game 4 of the best-of-7 series is tonight at Toyota Center.
Only one team in the history of the WHL has ever won a series after trailing 3-0 -- the Spokane Chiefs against the Portland Winterhawks in 1996.
"We have to come with the same effort and we have to find the back of the net," Hiller said of trying to extend the series. "We have to play hard, we have to get to the net and we have to score. I think guys are frustrated. We have a lot of guys who've scored a lot of goals this year; it's not going in, and when that happens you put extra pressure on yourself. We have to try and relax and come to the game and enjoy it."
Jones, who has allowed just two goal in three games, picked up his 15th win in the playoffs.
The Hitmen, who had killed off 32 straight power plays dating back to the Eastern Conference finals against Brandon, had their streak broken late in the third as Kruise Reddick took a pass from Johnny Lazo and scored glove side on Jones at 17:25.
The Americans, who received another power play 36 seconds later, pulled goalie Alex Pechurskiy for an extra attacker, but Ian Schultz ended up with a short-handed empty-netter for the Hitmen to finish off the scoring.
"We aren't happy with the three games here," Reddick said. "We have to look at the positives. We know we played a good game and we thought we might have out played them."
Holding onto a 3-0 lead through the second, the Hitmen looked to pad their lead late in the period, but Brandon Kozun's goal with 47 seconds remaining was disallowed as Tri-City goalie Alex Pechurskiy was pushed into the net and it came off its moorings.
The Americans held their own the first 12 minutes of the game, and even after Hitmen scored their first goal at 12:16 by Kris Foucault, Tri-City kept the pressure on.
But two goals by Calgary with less than 1:30 to play in the first, put the Hitmen in control.
Working on a power-play, the Hitmen got goal by Michael Stone at 18:39 as his blast from the left point glanced off Pechurskiy's glove and in the net for a 2-0 lead.
The Hitmen scored again 58 seconds later as Cody Sylvester charged down the left lane and slid the puck under Pechurskiy's right pad for a 3-0 lead that Calgary carried into intermission.
Pechurskiy, getting his first start in the playoffs, finished with 31 saves.
The Americans, who had a flurry of shots by Todd Kennedy and Brendan Shinnimin three minutes into the action, outshot the Hitmen 10-3 the first eight minutes of the game.
The Americans know tonight's game is do-or-die, and captain Jarrett Toll isn't ready to pack his bags.
"We've never given up all year," Toll said. "Right now we have to look at it one game at time. We win (today) and we go back to Calgary and who knows what happens. It was a tough night, we outplayed them, I felt we deserved to win and we didn't get it. But it's huge improvement from the two games in Calgary. We have to do the same thing tomorrow and hope the bounces go the other way."