KENNEWICK — The Tri-City Americans left town Feb. 26 for the first of seven road games. With them, they took a three-point lead in the U.S. Division standings.
Two weeks later, the Americans return to home ice on a three-game losing streak and have fallen into a tie with the Everett Silvertips with 93 points atop the division.
After the Silvertips lost to Portland on Tuesday, both Everett and Tri-City have three games remaining.
The Americans kick off their finish to the season tonight when the Seattle Thunderbirds (18-38-7-5, 48 points) visit Toyota Center. They have a home-and-home series with Spokane on Friday and Saturday, with Friday's game at Spokane Arena.
"We were OK," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller of the road trip. "There were a lot of would'ves, could'ves and should'ves, but OK is not good enough. Bottom line, we have to be more desperate from the drop of the puck."
The Americans (45-21-1-2) led the U.S. Division for 18 weeks, dating back to Oct. 30. They had a 12-point lead in the division in the middle of January, but have since let it slip away.
"If you look back over the last six weeks, we have given points away," Hiller said. "There was no sense of urgency. It's disappointing. You want to be playing well and winning. Last weekend (losses to Chilliwack, Portland and Seattle) was unacceptable."
Spokane (43-21-3-2, 91 points) also has three games remaining, including one against Everett on Sunday. Everett is home against Seattle and Chilliwack on Friday and Saturday.
The Americans are going to need to run the table this week and get a little help along the way if they want to pick up their third straight U.S. Division title.
"We have to take care of business," Hiller said. "Our focus right now is getting ready for Seattle. We have to play desperate and good hockey. We can't count on others losing -- we have to win these games."
Seattle is 0-4 at Toyota Center this season and hasn't won in Kennewick since Jan. 27, 2008 -- a span of 11 games. Tri-City is 6-3 against the Thunderbirds this season, with all three losses at ShoWare Center in Kent.
"We are going into it trying to play our best," said Seattle coach Rob Sumner. "We are so banged up right now. We have forwards on defense and we are short on players, but we are getting good efforts out there. Sunday (4-3 win over Tri-City), we played very hard, and for the most part quite well. They came at us with a lot of pressure in the third, but we held on.
"Our record is not good there (Toyota Center), but we have played some good games there," Sumner continued. "We just have to find a way to get to the next level."
The Thunderbirds will start Calvin Pickard in goal. Pickard, who is projected to be a first-round NHL draft pick this spring, has never won a game at Toyota Center.
Americans goalie Drew Owsley still is out of commission with a concussion. His return date is unknown. ... Tri-City is trying to become the first team to win three straight U.S. Division titles. Portland won three consecutive West Division championships from 1970-1973, but that was before any of the other current U.S. Division franchises were formed.