KENNEWICK – More than any team with home-ice advantage in the Western Hockey League playoffs, the Spokane Chiefs needed to jump out to a 2-0 series lead.
The Chiefs accomplished that by defeating the Tri-City Americans 4-1 on Friday and 6-4 on Saturday at the Arena to take command of the first-round, best-of-seven series.
The seven other WHL teams with home-ice advantage in the first round are playing 2-2-1-1-1 series, knowing they can drop Games 3 and 4 on the road and return home for Game 5. The Chiefs and Americans are playing a 2-3-2 series because the Arena is hosting an NCAA women’s basketball regional this weekend.
The series resumes tonight and Thursday night at the Toyota Center. Game 5, if necessary, would be Saturday night in Kennewick. The final two games, if necessary, would be April 2 and 3 in Spokane.
“Obviously, it’s going to be very hard to play three games straight in their building,” said right wing Blake Gal, who leads the Chiefs with three goals in the series. “We knew we had to get two (wins) here.”
“We know it won’t be easy in Tri with three games there,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “It’s different if it’s a 2-2-1-1-1 series. So with three games we just have to look at the next game and put this one behind us.”
The Chiefs have dominated the series, although Game 2 was tied at 4 until Gal and Mike Aviani scored in the final 3 ½ minutes.
“We need some adjustments to our game and I think they’re probably going through a few adjustments, too,” Nachbaur said. “My adjustment is I’d like to see a few more power plays.”
Spokane is 1 of 3 on the power play in the series.
Mitch Holmberg, with two goals and two assists, and Alessio Bertaggia, with one goal and two assists, are the Chiefs’ other playoff leaders.
Gal had 17 goals during the regular season, but he’s been on fire since late February. He had seven goals during Spokane’s final 11 regular-season games, including four winners.
Counting playoffs, Spokane is 5-1 against the Americans since Feb. 9 and 9-5 overall.
The Western Conference playoffs have been a bit of a surprise through two games. Top-seeded Portland lost its first game against No. 8 Everett before bouncing back to tie the series. Second-seeded Kelowna is down 0-2 to No. 7 Seattle.
If fourth-seeded Spokane wins its series and Seattle upsets Kelowna, the Chiefs would move up in seeding and avoid having to play the No. 1 team in the second round. Third-seeded Kamloops is off to a 2-0 start over Victoria in its bid to move up in seeding.
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