When you play a team 12 times during the regular season, the only thing you don’t know about one another come playoff time is what color of tie the coaches are going to wear.The Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs begin their first-round series Friday at Spokane Arena, with Game 2 on Saturday, also in Spokane.
“I think we need to execute better than them and they need to execute better than us,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, of the key to the series. “It’s easier said than done. The team that can execute a little bit sharper is the team that is going to win.”
This is the seventh time the teams have met in the playoffs. Spokane leads the playoff series 4-2, including an epic series in 2008, where five of the seven game went single or double overtime.
It’s also the third time in three years, with the Americans winning 4-3 last year in the second round.
“It’s the old cliché, ‘It’s a new beginning for everyone,’ ” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “Everyone tries to be as healthy as possible while keeping emotions in check. We had a tough series with them last year. They have always been close games with no free-wheeling for either team.”
The Chiefs edged out the Americans for fourth place in the Western Conference, and will have home-ice advantage in the series.
Games 3, 4 and 5, if necessary, will be played Tuesday, Thursday and March 30 at Toyota Center. If needed, Game 6 would be April 2 in Spokane.
If the series stretches to Game 7, Spokane would host the final game April 3.
“The fans make this exciting for both teams,” Nachbaur said. “When you are playing Tri, you see that. It’s different than playing any other team. It will be a packed house there and the same in Spokane.”
As a group, Spokane has 294 career playoff games among its roster. The Americans have 270, but the bulk of the load (163 games) is split among four players (Justin Feser 58, Connor Rankin 25, Zach Yuen 54 and Mitch Topping 26).
Tri-City has 11 players with zero playoff experience, including goalies Troy Trombley and Luke Lee-Knight.
“I like their team,” Nachbaur said. “They skate well and have depth on their back end. But I am more focused on my team and how we play. When we play the way we can, we have success. When we drift from that, we don’t. Goalies are a big part of the game. The pressure on making that big save. There are some areas of our game that need work, and every coach will say that. We are looking forward to that first game.”
On paper, Hiller said the team are pretty even in respects to record and offense and defense. The difference in the series may come down to experience and goaltending
“When you have experience, you certainly want to lean on it,” Hiller said. “When you don’t, you are young and hungry. We have had experience in the past and used it to our advantage. This year we are a young and hungry team and gaining experience along the way.”
The Americans have had their share of ups and downs this season. Combined, players have missed 169 games because of injury or illness. They lost starting goaltender Eric Comrie in January to a hip injury, and they lost forward Phil Tot to a concussion in October. Both were shelved for the season.
Affiliate goalies Luke Lee-Knight and Troy Trombley have come in to mind the net. The two netminders have a combined 60 games of WHL experience with four teams. In the playoffs, they have none.
At present, Topping and Tyson Dallman are questionable with lower-body injuries, while Ryan Chynoweth has been out with an upper-body injury.
“We don’t know if we will have everyone back,” Hiller said. “We do know we have enough healthy guys — we will have 20 healthy and strong — we just don’t know who they will be. We are really proud of the regular season we have had. The captains had to adjust after losing so many players they have played with in the past. We don’t care what people have said about us, we are going to go out there and play.”
Feser leads the Americans with 58 games of playoff experience, but his fellow overage players Jesse Mychan (3) and Drydn Dow (14) are lacking in that department. Both were hurt in the first round against Everett last year.
“As 20s, me, Fes and Dow have to bring it every night,” Mychan said. “It’s all we have left.”