KENNEWICK -- In a matchup of two heavyweights in the Western Conference, the Tri-City Americans got in the last lick to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Justin Feser scored the game winner in overtime and Ty Rimmer finished with 22 saves as the Tri-City Americans held off the Kamloops Blazers 3-2 on Saturday night before a crowd of 5,408 at Toyota Center.
"It was a good game and we expected that from them," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. "We were dangerous around their net and we corrected what we did poorly (Friday) night (3-0 loss at Seattle). I thought it was a great crowd. There was a lot of electricity in the building."
The Americans (16-6-0-0, 32 points) lead the U.S. Division and Western Conference, while Kamloops (14-6-1-0, 29 points) is just a couple of steps behind.
"We didn't have the start we wanted to have," Kamloops coach Guy Charron said. "They scored on a 5-on-3 and a breakaway in the first. We regrouped in the second and third and got the tie. With all the penalties and overtime, we didn't know what to expect. Three of four points against two pretty good teams (Kamloops beat Spokane on Friday) is a good weekend."
Defenseman Derek Ryckman started the final play, knocking the puck away from Colin Smith and sending it up to Feser.
Feser fed the puck back to Ryckman, who had his shot blocked by Cole Cheveldave. The rebound went into the slot, where Feser had an empty net.
"I have a long reach and I was able to poke it away, Ryckman said. "He gave it back to me, but it was a good thing he was waiting for the rebound. A little Red Deer connection."
Feser said he thought Ryckman, who still is looking for his first goal with Tri-City, had a better shot, but was ready just in case.
"I thought he was going to shoot it -- he did off the back pad. It came off right into the slot and I went to the net."
Holding a 2-1 lead midway in the third after Kamloops got a power-play goal from Chase Schaber, the Americans relied on Rimmer to make key saves, and none was bigger than a breakaway stop on Tim Bozon at 10:21.
But the Blazers would tie the game a 13:28 as Matthew Needham's shot out of the right corner found its way into the net.
"It went off (Michal) Plutnar's skate and top shelf," Rimmer said. "It was an unfortunate bounce, but we battled back. They are much improved from last year. It was a good test for us tonight."
After 21 days since their last game on home ice, the Americans went right to work in the first, taking a 2-0 lead with two goals just 30 seconds apart.
Adam Hughesman notched his 15th goal of the season at 7:24 on the power play, taking a pass across the top of the slot from Patrick Holland and slipping it in at the left post.
Malte Strmwall made it 2-0, knocking the puck away from Bronson Maschmeyer at the Tri-City blue line and taking it in alone on Cole Cheveldave, where he beat the Kamloops goalie between the pads for his seventh goal of the season.
While the first period featured the Americans' offense, the second highlighted the defense and the penalty kill team.
Just 5:38 into the second, Tri-City found itself on a 5-on-3 penalty kill for a span of 1:22. The Americans allowed four shots on goal and Rimmer had a couple of brilliant saves to keep a zero on the Blazers' side of the scoreboard.
"Our defense played solid," Feser said. "Once again, they were a really big part of what we've accomplished this year."
The Americans had 11 shots on goal and a couple of power plays, but Cheveldave was able to hold down the fort.
Cheveldave finished with 33 saves for the Blazers, who have not won at Toyota Center since Dec. 29, 2008, a span of five games.