It wasn’t a classic, not compared to the last time the Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs met in a Western Hockey League playoff series three years ago. But Saturday night the two teams kept 8,215 fans on the edge of their seats before the visiting Americans skated away with a 3-1 victory in the opener of their best-of-7 series.
“That was a real good playoff game,” Spokane coach Don Nachbaur said. “Both teams battled like a bugger for space. We had the chances to make a game of it. The difference was that they buried their chances and we didn’t. We had some pretty good looks.”
Though opportunities were rare, the Americans did cash in.
Spokane goalie James Reid twice failed to hold on to the puck in the first period and there was no teammate around to pick him up. Kruise Reddick cashed in at 3:41 when Reid dropped a shot from Jordan Messier.
Then at 14:03 Reid didn’t get a shot from Adam Hughesman corralled and Brendan Shinniman jabbed it in.
“Our game plan is to just get pucks on net just like any other game plan,” said Reddick, a veteran of the 2008 series won by the Chiefs in seven games. “Mess had a good shot and the puck was laying there for me. I couldn’t miss that. I was fighting to get past the D-man and all of a sudden the puck was there.”
Nachbaur said, “I think my goalie would like to have both of those back. We let some pucks sit right in front and didn’t get them cleared away. I don’t know if it was back-end guys or front-end guys, we just didn’t get the job done. Give them credit.”
Spokane, which had an 18-11 shot advantage, cut the deficit in half at 16:23 of the first period when Matt Marantz kept the puck alive along the boards and then found Kuhn sitting on the doorstep away from TC goalie Drew Owsley for the tap-in.
“I thought we both battled pretty hard,” Kuhn said. “Obviously they got their chances, we got ours. I thought they just bore down a little more on theirs and got the job done.
“I think it’s a mental thing. You see a puck, your chance is there, we just have to be more mentally tough to finish.”
“The statistics will tell you there is a large (advantage) when a team scores the first goal,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “Especially when you’re on the road it’s nice to get that first one. There were other big moments in the game, not just that first goal. It was just a solid game by both teams,” Hiller said. “I didn’t think there was an area that either team exploited.”
In a scoreless second period the Chiefs outshot the Americans 9-3.
The third was similar, Spokane had an 8-4 shot advantage, but the only goal belonged to Messier midway through, a high hard wrist shot to the opposite corner from the right circle. Reid stopped Carter Ashton on a penalty shot at 4:13.
Game 2 is Sunday at 6.
“You might see a lineup adjustment or two but maybe not,” said Nachbuar. “I still think we have it within us. There are guys that have to play better, they know it. That wasn’t our best performance by any means but the other team has something to do with that.”
Reddick, who set up the last goal, said, “I think we played a pretty sound defensive game. It was a well-played 60 minutes by both teams. They came out tough tonight, they’re only going to be tougher and more determined tomorrow night.”