There was a noticeable spark in the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday night in their 6-0 drubbing of Portland.
Kruise Reddick was back in the lineup.
The veteran forward missed six games with a foot injury and returned to the ice last Saturday against Spokane.
It took him a bit to get back in the flow, but once he did the Americans' offense was back in high gear. The power play -- which he runs from the point -- was running smoothly and the penalty kill was stingier than ever, shutting down Portland's four power plays.
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"There is no question his return helped us," said Americans coach Jim Hiller, whose team was 2-4 with Reddick out of the lineup. "He is a key player for us. He has a relentless work ethic, he's skilled and to have a guy like that back in your lineup can be the difference in the hockey game."
Reddick and the Americans (42-17-1-2, 87 points) need to be at their best this weekend, when they kick off their annual hoop-loop with games tonight at Everett (40-19-3-1, 84 points) and Saturday at Spokane (38-21-3-1, 80 points). Tri-City finishes the weekend Sunday at Seattle (17-35-7-4, 45 points).
The seven-game, two-week road trip is necessitated because Toyota Center becomes the host site for the 4A Eastern Regionals this weekend and then the NWAACC basketball championships the following weekend.
The Silvertips are just three points behind the Americans in the U.S. Division standings, making a big move starting Jan. 2 when Everett beat Tri-City 6-5 in a shootout.
Everett has won 21 of its last 25 games, with three losses to Spokane and one to Vancouver. During the run, the Silvertips had win streaks of 13 and their current four-game run, including a 3-2 win over Tri-City last week.
During that same time frame, the Americans played 24 games, going 14-10 with a six-game win streak in January.
"Every game for the last little while now has been important," said Hiller, whose team is 4-2-0-1 against Everett this season, including a pair of wins at Comcast Arena. "Every game is competitive. It will be an exciting game in their rink, we are going to have to return the favor."
Tyler Maxwell has had the hot hand against the Americans with five goals, while Kellan Tochkin and Shane Harper have three goals each in eight games.
Spokane, led by Kyle Beach who leads the WHL in goals scored with 47, leads the 12-game series against Tri-City this season 6-3-0-0. The Chiefs have won the last four meetings.
"The margin for error is pretty small," Hiller said. "It's the same for all teams this time of the year. The win Tuesday was good for our frame of mind -- the puck went in and we played a hard physical game."
Cory Flett from the WHL office did a little digging in regards to the Americans scoring three goals in a span of 25 seconds Tuesday night against Portland. Kelowna leads the three fastest goals category at 12 seconds, with Swift Current coming in at 16 seconds and the Winnipeg Jets and Saskatoon Blades at 17 seconds. Going back to the 1967-68 season, Flett said he saw no records better than Tri-City's 25 seconds, therefore ranking the Americans fourth on the list.
* Annie Fowler: 582-1574; email@example.com