KENNEWICK — The Tri-City Americans had a chance to take control of their Western Conference semifinal against the Spokane Chiefs on Sunday night, playing their last home game of the series.
Instead, they find themselves with their backs against the wall after dropping a 3-2 game in overtime to the Chiefs before a crowd of 4,014 at Toyota Center.
Blake Gal came out of the penalty box, took a pass from Dominik Uher and scored from the right circle at 4:52 to give the Chiefs to a 3-2 lead in their best-of-7 series.
"They executed the 3-on-2 very well, and that was that," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team lost 2 of 3 on home ice this past week. "We had a couple of good chances of our own (in overtime). Just like the other night, it was a game of millimeters at times."
For Gal, it was his sixth goal of the playoffs, and his third game-winner.
"The team had my back there after I took a bad penalty," Gal said. "I was just open. I just had to get the puck away as quick as I could and it went in."
The Chiefs can put the series away Tuesday with a win in Game 6 at Spokane Arena.
"We're up 3-2, that's all I care about," said Spokane coach Don Nachbaur. "We had a job to do coming down here, the way the series was split 2-3, to win two out of three here is fabulous. I thought we played well enough to win the last one, too. We made a break tonight."
Just when it looked as if the Tri-City Americans had one foot in the grave, they scored two goals in the third period to send the game into overtime for the second consecutive game.
Tyler Schmidt scored his second goal in as many games for the Americans, cutting the Chiefs' lead to 2-1 at 3:24 of the third, beating James Reid in the slot.
With time wining down, Tri-City called a timeout with 1:12 left in regulation. Assistant coach Brent Bilodeau drew up a play on the white board, and with goalie Drew Owsley off for an extra attacker, the Americans went to work.
In a matter of 13 seconds, Carter Ashton found a bit of daylight at the right post and tied the score at 2 with 1:01 left on the clock. It was Ashton's first goal in the series.
"He certainly had a plan he's worked on," Hiller said of Bilodeau. "It wasn't exactly like that, but the puck ended up in the back of the net, so kudos to him."
The Chiefs, working on a power play after Schmidt sent the puck out of play, had a face-off to the right of Owsley with 4 seconds left in regulation, but couldn't make anything happen.
Spokane had 1:09 left on the power play to start overtime, and had five shots on goal, but Owsley, who finished with 40 saves, turned them all away.
The Americans had their turn on the power play in overtime with Gal taking a high-sticking call at 2:46.
Ashton had Reid dead to rights at the left post at 3:42, but the Spokane goalie made a nice sprawling save. Reid finished with 33 saves.
"He played real well," Nachbaur said. "We needed strong goaltending and he gave it to us."
The Americans again had trouble with Spokane's trap in the neutral zone. Passes had a hard time finding a path through the tangle of players and sticks, and turnovers were numerous.
The Chiefs, however, kept rolling right along, using their speed and puck control to take control of the game.
After holding a 1-0 lead after the first period, Spokane came out and scored just 4:32 into the second as Matt Marantz took a drop pass from Gal and beat Owsley for his second goal of the playoffs.
For the second game in a row, the Chiefs came out and scored early.
Taking advantage of a Tri-City turnover, Tyler Johnson brought the puck in down the left lane and put a shot on goal. Owsley stopped the puck, but the rebound went out into the slot, where Spokane's big defenseman Jared Cowen blasted the puck into the net for his first goal of the playoffs just 27 seconds into the game.
The Americans looked to even things up in the waning seconds of the period, but Patrick Holland's second effort, in which he lifted the puck over Reid's glove and into the net, came just after the period had ended.