Tri-City Americans

Ams one win from WHL finals

Drew Owsley has the Tri-City Americans are on the verge of claiming their first Western Conference title.

The Tri-City goaltender finished with 40 saves and Brendan Shinnimin had a goal and two assists as the Americans took a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals Friday with a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants before a crowd of 4,351 at Toyota Center.

The Americans need one more win to reach their first WHL championship series, where they would face Scotty Munro Trophy winner Calgary.

Game 6 of this best-of-7 series is Sunday evening at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, with a potential Game 7 on Tuesday in Kennewick.

"This has been a process from Day 1," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "They have worked hard, but we aren't done yet. I thought we did a lot of little things right tonight and we skated well."

Vancouver coach Don Hay looks forward to getting back in front of his home crowd Sunday.

"That's why you play seven games," Hay said. "We have the opportunity to play in front of our crowd and feed off of their energy. We look forward to the opportunity to play Game 6."

But the Giants may not look forward to seeing Owsley again. The Tri-City netminder has a sterling 2.15 goals against average and a .931 save percentage in the playoffs. In five games against the Giants, he's only given up an average of two goals per game.

"It's a fine balance," Hiller said. "You have to have an extreme amount of confidence, but you also have to be humble. Drew has that. We have a lot of guys like that on this team. That's what makes the sum of the whole great."

As it has been all series, the Americans' power play was in high gear in the second period as Tri-City took a 3-1 lead with a pair of goals on the man advantage.

Tyler Schmidt gave the Americans a 2-1 lead at 9:56, while Brooks Macek's soft shot from just inside the right circle beat Segal at 12:27. Segal finished with 27 saves.

Vancouver had 15 shots on goal in the period, including a breakaway by James Wright at 14:29.

Wright, who played 48 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning at the start of the season, was stonewalled by Owsley.

"The pucks are looking pretty big to me," Owsley said. "I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win and hope they can feed off a big save. My defense let me see the shots tonight and we didn't give them many second chances. The crowd was great tonight and we fed off that."

Shinnimin added a late goal for Tri-City, taking a pass off the back wall from Mason Wilgosh in the slot and beating Giants goalie Mark Segal with 1:51 left in the game.

Wilgosh fended off several Vancouver players to keep control of the puck while the Americans were making a line change.

"He beat a couple of them down low, dipsy-doodled and he found me in the slot," Shinnimin said of Wilgosh. "It's guys like him and (Mike) Brown and TK (Todd Kennedy) that give us that lift."

The Giants, who trailed 1-0 after the first, wasted little time in tying the game at 1 as Lance Bouma's shot crossed Owsley's chest and glanced over his glove at 5:13.

Hay said his team needs to shore up its penalty kill and take advantage of its opportunities.

"We didn't take advantage and kill off those penalties," said Hay, whose team has allowed Tri-City eight power-play goals. "We had a strong seven minutes in the second to score and we didn't take advantage. When you don't capitalize, you waste your opportunities. We need to be better."

Rookie defenseman Zach Yuen gave the Americans an early 1-0 lead in the first period as his shot from the right point sliced across the slot, hit off Vancouver Nolan Toigo's stick and rolled into the net at 4:31. It was his first goal and first point of the playoffs.

Owsley turned aside 16 Vancouver shots in the first, but no saves were bigger than the three he had with 3:15 left in the period as he stopped a mini flurry, the first coming from Bouma streaming down the slot. Brendan Gallagher followed with the rebound, then tried again once he gathered his own rebound, but Owsley denied them all.


Of the three teams left in the WHL playoffs, the Americans have allowed the fewest goals -- 37. Vancouver has allowed 53 and Calgary 49. ... Calgary beat Brandon 6-1 on Friday to win the Eastern Conference finals 4-1. Brandon will host the Memorial Cup.

Annie Fowler: 582-1574;