By the end of tonight, Spokane Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur – one way or another – will be able to exhale, and it will finally become clearer how the West will be won.
The best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series between the Chiefs and rival Tri-City Americans – who have been treating Western Hockey League fans to a back-and-forth postseason battle the past two weeks – will wrap up tonight with Game 7 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
“I’ve been holding my breath this entire series,” Nachbaur said following Monday night’s Game 6, which the Chiefs won 4-3 in overtime after rookie Liam Stewart scored just less than 10 minutes into the extra period.
All of Spokane’s three wins in the current series with Tri-City have been overtime victories, while the Americans beat Spokane 2-1 twice and 5-3 – with an empty-net goal – on Saturday night in Kennewick, which gave the Ams a 3-2 series lead.
The winner between Tri-City and Spokane will meet either the Portland Winterhawks or Kamloops Blazers, who will also play a seventh game tonight – in Portland – after the Blazers capped an improbable comeback on Monday night and rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to tie the series 3-3.
The game between the Chiefs and Americans marks the 11th time the Chiefs have played a Game 7 in the postseason and the third time the Chiefs and Americans have taken a series the distance – both of which also concluded at the Toyota Center.
In 1995 the Americans won Game 7 in overtime, while Spokane defeated Tri-City 4-1 in 2008 in the Western Conference final. Nachbaur was the Ams’ bench boss in 2008 – the year the Chiefs went on to win the WHL and Memorial Cup championships following their victory over Nachbaur and the Americans.