Kennewick, Wa. The Tri-City Americans (7-0) are in the midst of an incredible playoff run right now. The team swept their first round series against the Kelowna Rockets and entered game three on Tuesday night with the 2-0 series lead and were looking to push the Victoria Royals (4-6) to the brink.
One thing the Americans haven’t faced a whole lot of yet in this year’s postseason is adversity. Even in their game two 9-7 win over Kelowna, it never really looked like they had lost control. Tuesday night started out familiarly for Tri-City, but it ended much differently. In the end, the Americans walked away with the 6-5 victory and a commanding 3-0 series lead, which is the most important thing this time of year. You find a way to win. But they did get a late gut punch on the way to that win.
As has been the story in six of the seven games they have played this postseason, the American were fairly dominant early. They controlled tempo, stifled the Royals’ speedy attack, and dominated their offensive zone, out shooting Victoria 10-1 before the halfway point of the first.
At 9:45, on their first power play of the night, Tri-City struck first.
Forward Morgan Geekie, who has been nothing short of phenomenal in the playoffs, scored his 12th of the postseason to give Tri-City a 1-0 lead. Geekie collected a pass in the right circle from fellow Carolina Hurricane draft pick Jake Bean and wristed a shot bar down over Victoria goaltender Griffen Outhouse.
Less than a minute later, on their second power play opportunity, forward Nolan Yaremko extended the lead to two. Geekie fired a shot from Outhouses’s left and Yaremko was their to collect the rebound and go back door. It was Yaremko’s 6th of the playoffs. Tri-City rode that lead into intermission killing off a penalty along the way, and outshooting Victoria 13-6.
The second period was more of the same.
Just 2:45 into the middle frame, Geekie picked up his second of the night and 13th of the playoffs. Defenseman Dylan Coghlan fired a shot from the left point, which Outhouse blocked, but Geekie was their to pick up the rebound and go glove side to give the Americans the 3-0 lead.
After failing to convert on their third power play of the night, Tri-City found themselves in a bit of penalty trouble. At 6:39, forward Brett Clayton took an elbowing penalty. Soon after, at 7:10, forward Maxwell James took a holding penalty and Victoria found themselves on an extended 5-on-3. It was a golden opportunity for the Royals to get back into it. Victoria got their looks, but the Americans penalty killers did an outstanding job of keeping the Royals from getting any quality chances. Tri-City killed the first penalty, but with eight seconds left on James’s penalty, Coghlan took a tripping penalty and Victoria would have a short 5-on-3 and the opportunity to get back into it. Once again, the Americans penalty killers did a great job of keeping everything to the outside.
The Americans killed them all off, and just eight seconds after getting back to 5-on-5 play, Geekie struck again to complete his hat trick with his league leading 14th of the playoffs. Geekie carried the puck in to the Victoria zone and wristed a laser from the right circle and past Outhouse. Tri-City carried the commanding 4-0 lead into the second intermission. Shots were 10-8 for Tri-City in the second. Everything seemed to be going the Americans’s way again, and the 3-0 series lead seemed all but locked up.
Victoria said not so fast.
The early stages of the third were going the Americans’ way yet again. At 6:39, Coghlan put the team up 5-0 with his second of the playoffs. His shot from the right circle from its way through traffic and past a screened Outhouse.
It was all but over at that point.
Unfortunately for Tri-City, Victoria didn’t get that memo.
At 7:36, Victoria winger Igor Martynov picked up his first of the postseason to ruin Americans’ goaltender Patrick Dea’s bid for his third shutout of the playoffs. Martynov carried the puck to the high slot and ripped a shot past Dea. 5-1.
At 11:21, Victoria forward Tarun Fizer picked up his second of the playoffs. Fizer’s shot through traffic crossing in front of Dea beat the Tri-City goalie who didn’t seem ready for it. 5-2.
At 15:42, forward Lane Zablocki picked up his second of the playoffs to cut the Americans lead to two. Zablocki threw a shot through the crease that deflected off a Tri-City defenseman and past Dea. 5-3.
At 17:50, things really started to get out of hand as Royals forward Dante Hannoun picked up his 5th of the playoffs to pull Victoria to within one. Hannoun did a great job of getting through the Tri-City defense and had a lot of space in the low circle to wrap a laser shot past Dea. 5-4.
Four unanswered goals by Victoria stunned the home crowd. With just over two minutes left to play, there was a lot of uncertainty looming at Toyota Center. Americans’ captain Michael Rasmussen helped to ease the tension just a bit by picking up an empty-netter at 19:15 for his 10th of the postseason. The Americans had regained the 2-goal lead and all was good again, right?
Victoria finished off their best playoff period ever by scoring a franchise record five goals in one period. With just 1.1 seconds left on the clock, and with the extra attacker, forward Andrei Grishakov picked up his first of the playoffs. The green light went off and the horn sounded almost simultaneously with the red light so it went to review. It was ruled a good goal, but with only 1.1 left on the clock, time had run out on Victoria’s unthinkable comeback attempt.
The American skated away with the 6-5 victory and more importantly, the 3-0 series lead. Victoria dominated offensively in the third out shooting the Americans 18-8 in the final frame and 32-31 for the game. Tri-City went 2-for-3 on the power play to move to a league best 50% in the playoffs. Victoria was only able to convert on one of their seven man-advantages. The teams will meet again on Wednesday night in Kennewick where Tri-City can put it away.
Despite the great third period by Victoria, Tri-City is still firmly in control and looking to advance to their first conference final series since 2012.