by Ben Tole

January 7, 2014, Kennewick, WA (ISN) – Lucas Nickles scored the go ahead goal with 1:38 to play, and the Tri-City Americans (19-19-2-2, 42 pts.) defeated the Kamloops Blazers (10-28-2-2, 24 pts.) 2-1 on Tuesday night at the Toyota Center.

It was the second win in the last three games for the Americans. Tri-City also gained two valuable points on the Prince George Cougars, who now sit five points behind the Americans for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Eric Comrie made 26 saves on the night, including several big saves down the stretch, to keep the game tied. Taran Kozun got the start for the Blazers, making 27 saves in the tough-luck loss.

The Americans controlled play for the bulk of the first period, out shooting the Blazers 10-7 in the first 20 minutes. Kamloops had a strong two-minute power play, where it registered four of its seven first period shots, but Comrie held the Blazers off the board. Both teams had one power play opportunity in the opening frame, but neither was able to score.

After the teams had skated scoreless for nearly 35 minutes, the Americans finally opened the scoring on the power play at 14:51. After taking a pass from Phil Tot, Brandon Carlo fired a shot towards the Blazers’ goal. The shot did not make it through the traffic, but the puck bounced off a defender and right onto the stick of Brian Williams, who put it in for his 24th of the season. The Americans’ lead would be short lived, however, after Josh Connelly slid the puck past Comrie on the third attempt, tying the game at one.

One minute into the final frame, Tri-City had an opportunity to take the lead after Connor Rankin went in alone on Kozun. But, his backhand attempt was denied by the glove of the Kamloops net minder.

Both sides had opportunities with the man advantage in the third period, as teams combined for 36 penalty minutes in the final 20 minutes of play. Tri-City was faced with two key penalty kills in the third period, with the first coming at 7:23 after Justin Gutierrez was issued a unsportsmanlike penalty and a game misconduct following a fight with Connor Clouston. Then, at 15:23, Rankin was whistled for a cross checking penalty. The Blazers threatened several times, but a goal post and several clutch saves by Comrie kept the game knotted at one.

Just 14 seconds after Rankin returned to the ice, the Blazers took a penalty, putting the Americans on the power play with 2:33 remaining in regulation. After the Blazers cleared the puck out of the zone, Tri-City regained controlled and Phil Tot found Lucas Nickles streaking down the left side of the ice. Nickles fired a slap shot just inside the faceoff circle, beating Kozun top corner, to give Tri-City a 2-1 lead with 1:38 left in the game.

The Blazers attempted to regroup, calling timeout following the goal, but were never able to generate any strong opportunities after pulling Kozun for the extra attacker coming out of the break.

The Americans’ special teams proved to be a determining factor in the game, scoring both of its goals on the power play, while holding the Blazers scoreless on five opportunities.

The Americans open a weekend home-and-home with the division rival Everett Silvertips (23-12-5-1, 52 pts.). Before hosting the ‘Tips on Saturday at the Toyota Center, Tri-City will first travel to Comcast Arena this Friday, for a 7:35 p.m. faceoff. Fans can catch all the action live, via WHL Live, at the Americans’ official home away from home, Kimo’s in Richland.

Jack In Box Three Stars

1) Eric Comrie, Tri-City

2) Taran Kozun, Kamloops

3) Lucas Nickles, Tri-City