Tri-City Americans

Ams fighting to stay alive

CALGARY -- The Tri-City Americans are not ones to back down from a fight.

Throughout the playoffs, they've been told they are too small, not physical enough or don't have the talent to advance. They have proven a lot of people wrong the last seven weeks.

Now, though, they're challenging the conventional wisdom that a team can't fight back from a 3-0 deficit.

Tonight, the Americans take on the Calgary Hitmen in Game 5 of the Western Hockey League finals at Pengrowth Saddledome.

Calgary leads the best-of-7 series 3-1, but Tri-City is riding high after beating the Hitmen on Wednesday night to stave off elimination.

"We feel good" said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "We knew we could play with these guys. We've felt comfortable the whole way. We haven't got a lot of bounces and we won't try and make excuses, but we've felt that way. Now we are back in it and we can't wait to go (today)."

A Tri-City win tonight would send the series back to Toyota Center for Game 6 on Sunday. Only one team in league history has ever won a series after trailing 3-0 -- the Spokane Chiefs against the Portland Winterhawks in 1996.

"We know we can beat them," Hiller said. "Calgary knows we can beat them. Now let's go fight for this. Let's go back go back to Calgary (tonight)."

The Americans have done well in the playoffs when they score first, going 7-3. When they lead after two periods, like they did Wednesday, they are 8-1.

"I think any time you score early it puts a jump in your step," Hiller said. "Getting that first goal for us, it takes the weight of the world off your shoulders. To me, that was a key point in (Wednesday's) game."

Jordan Messier scored Tri-City's first goal Wednesday in Game 4, while Mason Wilgosh gave the Americans a 2-0 lead, matching the number of goals they had scored the first three games combined.

Including Calgary's regular-season win over the Ams, the Hitmen have outscored Tri-City 20-6 this season.

"I think we came out just as hard as we have, but we got the bounces that we needed," Wilgosh said. "Jones played great (Tuesday) and again (Wednesday), we just got those bounces. If we keep working we can score more goals and hopefully bring the series back home."

The Americans have turned their game around with Alex Pechurskiy in net.

Drew Owsley, who was so solid through the first three rounds of the playoffs, had a hard time against the Hitmen in Games 1 and 2, but Pechurskiy has been hard for Calgary to solve.

"You have to believe and you have to plant doubt," Hiller said. "We were frustrated we couldn't get to Jones (the first three games). They had a lot of chances (Wednesday). Now that they've seen Alex's pads, hopefully they will see a lot of them (today)."

With a win tonight, Calgary can pick up its second WHL title and book a trip to the Memorial Cup, which begins May 14 in Brandon, Manitoba.

"I don't think we have to do much different," said Calgary coach Mike Williamson of Wednesday's loss. "We just have to shake this one off, go back and make sure we bring our best the next time out."

The Hitmen's penalty kill has been key, negating 21 of the Americans' 23 power plays in the series, but their power play hasn't gotten much of a workout, going 3-for-11.

"It was 7-2 on Tuesday and we had one power play (Wednesday)," Williamson said. "They've got to be the cleanest team in the history of hockey. Our guys are doing everything we are asking and we can't get frustrated with it.

"You have to play through that. If we are moving our feet and getting to the middle of the ice a little bit more -- I think we could have done a better job with that -- then you generate some more opportunities on the power play. All you can do is control what you can control."