KENNEWICK, Wash. - In the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, the Calgary Hitmen were one loss away from elimination. Now they're a win away from punching their ticket to the Memorial Cup.
Martin Jones finished with 29 saves and four different Calgary players scored as the Hitmen defeated the Tri-City Americans 4-1 to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Hockey League finals Tuesday night at Toyota Center.
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
"I thought as expected, the start of the hockey game was fast and furious with Tri-City coming out hard," said Calgary coach Mike Williamson. "I thought we weathered the storm, they had some good scoring chances. Once we got things going, much like the first game we capitalized on our chances and that ended up being the difference."
Only one team in the history of the WHL has ever won a series after trailing 3-0 - the Spokane Chiefs against the Portland Winterhawks in 1996.
"We've never given up all year," Tri-City captain Jarrett Toll said. "Right now we have to look at it one game at time. We win (Wednesday) and we go back to Calgary and who knows what happens."
The Hitmen, who are playing in the finals for the third time in 15 years, are looking for their first WHL title since 1999. They almost didn't get this far - they were down 3-1 to Moose Jaw in the opening round before roaring back to take the series in seven games.
The Americans, making their first appearance in the finals, have been overmatched the last three games, but have not waved the white flag.
"I thought we came out and did what we wanted to do," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "We wanted to get a lot of pucks to the net and get the building into the game. We played hard the whole game and I thought we tested Jones tonight maybe more than the other two games maybe combined. I thought tonight he was the difference."
Jones, who has allowed just two goal in three games, picked up his 15th win in the playoffs.
The Americans held their own the first 12 minutes of the game, and even after Hitmen scored their first goal at 12:16 by Kris Foucault, Tri-City kept the pressure on.
But goals by Calgary's Michael Stone and Cody Sylvester with less than 1:30 to play in the first, put the Hitmen in control.
Holding onto a 3-0 lead through the second, the Hitmen looked to pad their lead late in the period, but Brandon Kozun's goal with 47 seconds remaining was disallowed as Tri-City goalie Alex Pechurskiy was pushed into the net and it came off its moorings.
Kruise Reddick scored the Americans' lone goal on the power play at 17:25 of the third, while Calgary's Ian Schultz finished the scoring with a short-handed empty-netter with 46 seconds left in the game.
Pechurskiy, getting his first start in the playoffs, finished with 31 saves.
"It was a tough night," Toll said. "We outplayed them, I felt we deserved to win and we didn't get it. But it's huge improvement from the two games in Calgary.
"We have to do the same thing tomorrow and hope the bounces go the other way.'