When the dust settled Tuesday night on an eventful third period of Game 3 between the Tri-City Americans (8-0) and Victoria Royals (4-7) there seemed to be more questions than answers heading to Game 4.
The Royals set a franchise record for playoff goals in a single period with five, and the undefeated Americans looked human after all. Tri-City did hold on for the 6-5 victory in that game which gave them the 3-0 series lead, but had Victoria found the game plan to hand Tri-City its first postseason loss and extend their season? No they had not. The Americans won game four 5-3 on Wednesday night, earning a sweep in each of the first two rounds of the WHL playoffs for the first time in team history. Victoria battled hard, but in the end, Tri-City’s depth and attack were too much for the injury riddled Royals.
There was lots of energy from both teams after puck drop. Tri-City came out with their intense offensive zone attack early. Those fast starts have been a staple to their success, and it looked like they would get the first strike for the seventh time in eight playoff games.
Not so fast.
The Americans gave up the first goal for the second time in the playoffs. Royals forward Noah Gregor, who had yet to find the scoresheet in this series, got Victoria on the board at the 3:49 mark. Gregor picked up a rebound and skated across the crease to put the puck in backdoor on Tri-City goalie Patrick Dea.
The Royals had their first lead of the series.
The Americans responded by not changing anything, and continuing with the formula that has given them so much success. It paid off six minutes later. Rookie forward Isaac Johnson got the Americans on the board at the 9:09 mark with his first goal of the series. After some great stick handing through the Victoria zone, Johnson found himself uncovered in front of Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse, where he was able to wrist the puck far side before Outhouse could get set.
Just over three minutes later, Tri-City would get their first lead of the night as rookie forward Sasha Mutala picked up his first WHL playoff goal. Mutala battled in close, whacking away at a loose puck in front of Outhouse. The persistence paid off, as Mutala finally banged it home at the 12:36 mark.
Three more minutes ticked by when defenseman Dylan Coghlan extended his point streak to five games, by picking up his third of the playoffs. Coghlan took a pass at the point from fellow defenseman Jake Bean, and ripped a shot from the high slot that went bar down on a partially screened Outhouse. The Americans were starting run away with it. The horn sounded on the first with Tri-City up 3-1 and holding the shot advantage, 13-5.
The Royals were not about to give up on keeping their season alive.
Just 2:43 into the second, Victoria cut the Tri-City lead to one as Kaid Oliver picked up his first ever WHL playoff goal. A flurry of action in front of Dea led to the Tri-City goaltender on his back desperately trying to cover the puck. Instead, the puck trickled underneath him and just across the goal line.
The Americans responded by keeping the pressure on, but Outhouse made some incredible saves to keep them from extending the lead.
At 11:20 of the middle frame, Gregor would pick up his second of the contest to pull Victoria into the 3-3 tie. On the power play, Gregor collected a Jared Freadrich pass at the right circle and fired a shot through lots of traffic to beat Dea. Victoria won the shot battle 11-9 and we were headed to the third with a new game.
The beginning of the end for the Royals came at the 5:29 mark.
Tri-City forward Morgan Geekie, who has become a nightmare to the opposition, picked up his league leading 15th of the postseason to put the Americans back on top. Geekie skated through the left circle and fired a perfect shot on Outhouse that went bar down on the far side. With that goal, Geekie also extended his post season goal streak to eight games which is a WHL record. The goal would become the eventual game and series winner. Americans forward Riley Sawchuk would add the insurance goal at 16:21 after beating Outhouse, who came way out of his bet, on a partial breakaway to put Tri-City up 5-3.
The lead would hold, and for the first time in team history, the Americans swept the first two round of the playoffs. Tri-City remains the only team in the entire CHL that has yet to lose in the playoffs.
Focus now shifts to getting some rest and preparing for the teams’ first conference championship series since 2010. Defenseman Juuso Välimäki was scratched for the second straight game with an injury of some sort. The extended time off will hopefully see the Calgary Flames prospect return for the third round. The Americans run won’t get any easier as they will face the winner of the Portland and Everett series on the road for games one and two. Depending on how long the remaining series go, Tri-City could have up to 9-10 days off before round three begins. That extra rest goes a long way this time of year.