KENNEWICK – The postseason swagger battle has tilted toward the Spokane Chiefs.
After Tri-City defeated the Chiefs 5-4 in overtime in Game 3 Tuesday night, Americans coach Jim Hiller said: “The confidence and swagger is back in the team.”
After Thursday night’s Game 4, when Spokane beat the Americans 4-3 in OT to take a 3-1 series lead, Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur retorted: “We got our swagger back.”
The Chiefs can polish off the Western Hockey League best-of-seven first-round series by defeating the Americans Saturday night at Toyota Center. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be in Spokane.
Nachbaur, who may have been ribbing Hiller, believes his Chiefs have had their swagger throughout most of the series.
“We’ve played four good games,” Nachbaur said. “We had enough chances in every game to win every game.”
Spokane has outscored Tri-City 18-13 and outshot the Americans 147-121 in the series. The Chiefs have had two letdowns in the series: a 71/2-minute stretch during the second period of Game 3 in which they allowed three goals, and the last 5:10 of regulation in Game 4 when Tri-City scored twice to force OT.
The Americans’ hopes took a big shot when goaltender Luke Lee-Knight was injured early in Thursday’s OT. Chiefs left wing Adam Helewka collided with Lee-Knight, who exited the game favoring his left arm.
“It’s unfortunate their goalie got hurt, but our guy (Helewka) went hard to the net and got cut down by their guy,” Nachbaur said.
Troy Trombley, who started and lost games 1 and 2, replaced Lee-Knight and gave up the winning goal to Blake Gal.
Gal, who had 17 goals during the regular season, leads the Chiefs with five goals in the series. Alessio Bertaggia has a team-best six assists and seven points, and Mitch Holmberg has three goals and two assists.
The Chiefs are generating goals without many power-play chances. Spokane never had the man advantage on Thursday and has had two or less power-play chances in three of the four games.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Nachbaur said. “It’s not like (the Americans) are playing a perfect game.”
Gal called Thursday’s win a “confidence booster” and said the Chiefs aren’t thinking about returning to home ice in the series.
“We’d like to finish it up here and not have to (play at) home – to do it on the road and prove that we can play on the road,” Gal said.
“Your biggest game’s your next game, not the two games coming,” Nachbaur agreed. “Our next game, that’s all we’re going to focus on.”