by Ben Tole
February 27, 2014, Kennewick, WA (ISN) – For 65 minutes, the Tri-City Americans (27-28-3-5, 62 pts.) hung right with the CHL’s best team, scoring twice to take the lead early in the third period.
But, a goal late in regulation allowed the Kelowna Rockets (49-9-0-4, 102 pts.) to push the game into a shootout, where they eventually pulled out a 4-3 win on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.
After going undefeated at home during the month of January, the Americans have now lost five in a row at the Toyota Center, as well as dropping its last seven overall, but have earned points in its last two games. With the one point, Tri-City extended its lead over the Prince George Cougars (26-31-3-5, 60 pts.) to two points with nine game remaining in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Cougars have just six games left to play, and will play four of those contests against highly ranked Western Conference opponents.
The Americans got off to a strong start in the first period, getting several opportunities in what was a very evenly matched first 10 minutes. Despite that strong start, Kelowna would open the scoring when Marek Tvrdon corralled the loose puck at the faceoff circle and fired a wrist shot through traffic, over the shoulder of Eric Comrie, giving the Rockets the 1-0 lead at 12:35.
Keeping the pressure on the Rockets, Tri-City went to the power play just 3:30 minutes later with the opportunity to score the tying goal. However, it would be the Rockets that capitalized, as Ryan Olsen forced a turnover at his blue line, then fed the puck to Myles Bell, who had a wide open net to shoot at, giving the Rockets a 2-0 lead.
At 9:18 of the second period, Brian Williams cut into Kelowna’s lead with his 35th goal of the season. After taking the pass from Lucas Nickles, Williams dangled through the Kelowna defense and back handed the puck past Jackson Whistle.
Tri-City flew out of the gates in the third period of play, as Beau McCue tied the game at two just 2:19 into the final frame of regulation while teams skated four-on-four. Then, just five seconds later, a high sticking penalty by Cole Linaker gave the Americans a 4-on-3 man advantage. Michal Plutnar’s shot from the point would give his team the lead, beating Whistle to give Tri-City the 3-2 lead.
After taking the lead, Tri-City looked for that elusive insurance marker, controlling all the momentum through the middle stages of the third period. But, Tvrdon would tie the game at 14:45, deflecting a Riley Stadel point shot past Comrie for his second goal of the game.
After a scoreless overtime, the game headed to a shootout for the second time in as many games for Tri-City. Comrie looked sharp, stopping two out three Kelowna shots. But, Whistle did one better, stopping all three Americans’ shooters to give his team the victory.
The Americans will spend an important weekend of hockey on the road, first against the Everett Silvertips (31-23-7-2, 71 pts.) Friday night at the Comcast Arena, before traveling east to take on the rival Spokane Chiefs (36-21-3-3, 78 pts.) at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena for another Saturday night showdown. Fans can catch 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) Marek Tvrdon, Kelowna
3) Brian Williams, Tri-City