Tonight is the night for the Tri-City Americans or Spokane Chiefs to jump in the driver's seat and take the inside lane to the finish line in their Western Conference semifinal series.
After a thrilling 4-3 double overtime victory by the Americans on Thursday, the best-of-7 series is tied at 2 going into Game 5 tonight at Toyota Center.
"Just like the last game, we are going in knowing we are capable of winning," said Tri-City team captain Kruise Reddick. "It's the biggest game in the series to date."
Tri-City won Game 1 in Spokane, but the Chiefs came back to win games 2 and 3 before Americans defenseman Tyler Schmidt put the puck past James Reid for the game winner Thursday.
"It didn't matter who put the puck in, just as long as it went in," said Reddick, who scored two game-winning goals in overtime in the 2008 playoff series. "For Tyler, sitting out the game before, it was good for him. I know what a special feeling that it. I know he was feeling pretty good about it."
Game 6 and Game 7, if needed, will be played at Spokane Arena on Tuesday and Wednesday. Reddick said the Americans will need a strong team game tonight to be able to roll into Spokane with the series lead.
"We need to play our game. We can't stray away from what has been successful all year," Reddick said. "There are a lot of guys in the room that have been through this before. We just have to do what we do best. Spokane is the same team they have been all year. They are a typical Don Nachbaur team, skating hard to the end. It will be a battle for sure."
Having home-ice advantage in the series hasn't meant much to either team, but Americans coach Jim Hiller is glad to have Game 5 at Toyota Center.
"I think you have to look at the numbers (27-8-0-1 during the regular season) -- it is an advantage for us," Hiller said. "We played without Schmitty in the first game. I look forward again to playing with the whole lineup. I thought (Thursday) was our best game of the series. We did a lot of things right, played how we wanted to play offensively, and we had a lot of pressure at the net. We don't want to change anything."
Hiller shortened his lines late in the third and during both overtimes, holding Adam Hughesman and Neal Prokop off the ice and short-shifting his defensemen.
"It was a coach's decision," Hiller said. "We had what we felt was a group of guys that were going better, and that's what we went with. We also knew that we would get a healthy break between games and thought we could run them a little harder than usual and still be fresh enough for (today)."
One of those hard-working players that saw a lot of ice time at the end of the game was forward David Conrad, a former Chief.
"He has really played well in the playoffs," Hiller said. "David won the important face-off on the winning goal. He's a guy that kind of fell through the cracks."
The Chiefs, who held a 2-0 lead early in the second period Thursday, had to scramble in the third period to tie the game at 3 and force overtime.
"I think they made some plays and our coverage lacked at times," Nachbaur said. "We fell behind, but came back and gave ourselves a chance, something we've done all year long. It could have gone either way in overtime. That's the way hockey plays out.
"It's the best 2-of-3 now. It will be entertaining. All four games have been intense."