KENNEWICK -- Adam Hughesman is tired of losing to the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The Tri-City Americans forward was a rookie in 2008, when Tri-City and Spokane met in the Western Conference finals. The Americans lost in seven games, five of which went to overtime or double overtime.
Last year, the Chiefs won the Western Conference semifinal series 4-2, with the final three games needing extra time.
"I haven't beaten them yet," said Hughesman, in his final WHL season. "Hopefully we can change that. I'm pretty sure the fans want that, too. We have a goal, and that is to win."
The U.S. Division champion Americans and the Chiefs open their Western Conference semifinal series tonight at the Toyota Center.
"It's a big rivalry," Hughesman said. "They have a great team. We have a great team. To be honest, there are no secrets in this series. We know everything about them, and they know us. It will be a great series."
Tri-City and Spokane are meeting for the sixth time in the playoffs. The Americans have won just one series (1995).
These are teams that give fans their money's worth when they meet in the playoffs. Over the last three series, 11 of the 18 games have gone into overtime or beyond.
"Those close games can go either way," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team advanced with a first-round sweep of the Everett Silvertips. "One shot is all it takes. It speaks to how close the teams have been throughout the years. The passion in the building with the fans and the players. If I were a referee, I'd ask for overtime pay if history repeats itself."
Spokane coach Don Nachbaur has been on both sides of the bench. Nachbaur coached Tri-City in the 2008 series and the Chiefs last season.
"This is no different than any other playoff series," Nachbaur said. "People are trying to connect it with the rivalry and the players I have coached. We are two different teams from last year. You can't read anything into it. We just finished a series with Vancouver, and it was pretty intense."
The Americans won the regular-season series against Spokane 8-4. Surprisingly, no games went to overtime.
Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland combined for 19 goals and 60 points against the Chiefs during the regular season.
"They are a great team. You don't make the playoffs unless you are a good team," Hiller said. "I like how we have played against them all year. We are going to adjust our style going into the series. Nothing we are focusing on concerns Spokane."
One thing the Americans have had to change is their lineup. With defenseman Drydn Dow out because of a broken arm, rookie Justin Hamonic has been pressed into a key role at a crucial time.
"He's a great example of a young player who didn't play much the first half," Hiller said. "You have to get better even if you don't play. He got his opportunity and impressed. Now, I don't know what we'd do without him. He's solid and has come a long way. The way he has improved and the opportunity he's gotten, he's planted himself in the lineup every night."
The Americans also will be with forwards Jesse Mychan (Achilles' tendon surgery) and Marcus Messier (concussion).
The Chiefs, who finished 10-13 down the stretch, will be without defenseman and regular-season scoring leader Brendan Kichton, who took a puck to the face in Game 1 against Vancouver and suffered a broken jaw.
With Kichton out of action, Mitch Holmberg stepped to the forefront against Vancouver with six goals, while Blake Gal added three goals and Mike Aviani two goals and nine assists.
"I don't know if you can reflect on our record the last month," Nachbaur said. "We had the toughest schedule the last half. I think that made us mentally tough down the stretch, and that is really helping us now. We didn't get off to the best scenario (against Vancouver), and seeing a teammate get hurt seriously had an effect."
In net, the Americans will stick with veteran Ty Rimmer, the postseason leader with a 1.39 goals against average. Rimmer was 8-2 against Spokane this season with a .923 save percentage.
"The number of times he has played Spokane, he gives us a lot of trust in that area, which is important," Hiller said.
Though he has faced Spokane many times, Rimmer said this series is not business as usual.
"It's not just another game," Rimmer said. "We are playing Spokane in the second round. This opportunity doesn't come around every day. It's an intense rivalry, and we know there will be close games. It will come down to who can make plays and play solid defense."
The Chiefs started the playoffs in a 2-0 hole against Vancouver before rallying behind backup goalie Eric Williams to win four consecutive games and dismiss the Giants.
Williams came to Spokane in a trade with Prince Albert in late December. He made 15 starts -- including an 0-3 record against Tri-City -- but didn't impress enough to bump Mac Engel out of the net until the Chiefs needed a savior in the playoffs. Williams enters the second round with a 1.78 goals against average.
Engel was 4-5 against the Americans, with a 2.81 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. In two games against Vancouver, he had a 6.93 goals against average and an .804 save percentage.
"They have two good goalies. I'm expecting Williams to start Game 1," Hughesman said. "We are going to have to get a lot of shots on net to beat them."
Nachbaur declined to name his starter.
"Just come to the game and see who starts," he said. "During the season, we played them both and rotated them. Not to say one will falter, but we always have the other in the bullpen, and that's a good thing in the playoffs."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com