By Dan Mulhausen, Tri-City Americans
SPOKANE, WA – As the series between Tri-City and Spokane dragged on, it became perfectly clear that only one ending would do it justice. And with a flick of his wrist, Liam Stewart ensured everyone will get to see it.
Stewart scored the game-winner midway through overtime, lifting the Spokane Chiefs (7-5-0, 14 pts) to a 4-3 win over the Tri-City Americans (7-0-3, 14 pts) in Game 6 of their conference semi-finals series in front of 4,927 fans at Veterans Memorial Arena. The win evened the best-of-7 series at 3-games apiece, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday, April 18 at the Toyota Center. The winner of that game will advance to the 2012 Western Conference Finals, where they will face-off against the winner from the Portland/Kamloops series, which is also headed to a Game 7.
For playing a clinching game on the road, the Americans got off to a good start by taking an early 1-0 lead. Less than three minutes into the contest, Derek Ryckman followed up on Patrick Holland's rebound, knocking back his second goal of the series.
But, two quick goals less than a minute apart, gave the Chiefs a 2-1 advantage headed into the first intermission. First, at 5:35 of the 1st period and on the power play, Dominik Uher scored his third goal in as many games as he beat Ty Rimmer under his stick. Then, 53 seconds later, Justin Hamonic lost an edge bringing the puck out of the Americans' zone, allowing a 2-on-1 Chiefs' breakaway. Mike Aviani then fired a shot that was tipped in front by Mitch Holmberg, giving him his 10th goal this post-season.
Still trailing as the game neared the halfway point, the Americans got a spark from Justin Feser. While killing off a Brendan Shinnimin penalty, Mason Wilgosh was able to break free and get a big shot off on Eric Williams. Unable to control the rebound in the slot, Feser pounced on the loose puck, making a quick move before beating Williams at the near post.
The tie was short-lived, however, as on that same power play opportunity, the Chiefs connected to regain the lead. Parked in front of Rimmer, Steven Kuhn deflected Tanner Mort's shot from the point for his third goal in the last four games.
But, with less than two minutes to play in the 2nd period, and playing 4-aside, Holland took advantage of Reid Gow's stumble by slipping a shot between Williams' pads, knotting the game at 3 after 40 minutes.
Despite a solid 3rd period by both squads, Rimmer and Williams were better, ensuring that a third game in this series would be decided in overtime. Once in the extra session, Tri-City generated plenty of pressure on Williams, which included a game-extending glove save on Feser just over six minutes into the extra session. Three minutes later, and from the left circle, though, Stewart saved the Chiefs' season by swatting a shot over Rimmer's glove.
Rimmer, who has yet to lose a game in regulation this post-season, stopped 20 shots in the loss. Meanwhile, Williams turned aside 27 of the 30 shots he faced to pick-up his 7th win. Tri-City finished the night 0-for-3 on the power play, while Spokane went 2-of-4 on the man-advantage.