KENNEWICK – Something shifted when the first-round playoff series between the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans hit the 150-minute mark Tuesday night.
Until then, the Chiefs dominated the Western Hockey League best-of-seven series. They owned two home victories and a 4-1 lead halfway through Game 3 at the Toyota Center. They had outscored Tri-City 14-6 in the series and were 30 minutes away from taking a commanding 3-0 advantage.
That’s when the Americans struck back. It started with Marcus Messier’s goal with 9:22 left in the second period and steamrolled from there. Justin Feser scored less than 1 ½ minutes later and the tying goal, from Drydn Dow, made it three scores in less than 7 ½ minutes.
Meanwhile, former Chief Luke Lee-Knight shored up the Americans’ shaky goaltending, holding Spokane scoreless for 44 consecutive minutes until Connor Rankin provided the winner for Tri-City 10:46 into overtime. The goal was originally credited to Parker Bowles on Tuesday night, but was changed to Rankin on Wednesday.
Fifteen of the last 24 Chiefs-Americans playoff games have gone to OT.
“It’s a rivalry and both teams are competitive and it stems from that,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “Both teams are evenly matched.”
Americans fans hope the home recipe works again for Game 4 Thursday night and Game 5 Saturday night. The series would return to Spokane if Games 6 and 7 become necessary.
Nachbaur acknowledged that the home crowd assisted the comeback, but his focus remains what the Chiefs didn’t do when the third game was in their grasp.
“You need your best players to be at their best,” Nachbaur said. “I would say some of our best players didn’t show up.”
Brenden Kichton, who led Spokane with 85 points this season, has been held to two assists in the series, both in Game 1. Todd Fiddler, the Chiefs’ leading goal-scorer with 42 and No. 3 in points with 77, has two points in the series. Dylan Walchuk, whose 60 points ranked fifth on the team, has one assist in the series.
“There’s not been a lot of offense,” Nachbaur said. “I mean, you look at the scoreboard, yeah, but both teams have had to work for their goals.”
The fourth game holds great weight. The Chiefs will either lead 3-1, knowing they have three chances at the clincher, including two at home, or Tri-City will make it a best-of-three setup.
“It’s important that we win the next game or at least give ourselves some momentum, get the momentum back,” Nachbaur said. “We knew we had to play three games here and win one or two, but that game (tonight) is going to be tough.”