When Tri-City coach Jim Hiller put Adam Hughesman, Brendan Shinnimin and Connor Rankin on the top line at the start of the season, he envisioned great things.
The fireworks have been intermittent, but Friday night Hughesman had two goals, and Brendan Shinnimin and Rankin combined for one goal and four assists to lead the Americans to a 5-1 victory over Swift Current before a crowd of 4,686 at Toyota Center.
"They played stretched together last year and had success," said Hiller, whose team has won three in a row. "We don't have to rely on one line, but when they get going, they are dangerous. Connor had his best game of the year. He has been struggling, but tonight he was outstanding."
With the win, the Americans (18-6-0-0, 36 points) kept a two-point lead over Portland in the U.S. Division and Western Conference.
"These are all big points come March," said Hughesman, who leads Tri-City with 18 goals and 43 points. "We just have to take care of ourselves and take care of business."
Swift Current (10-13-2-1, 23 points), which is at Everett tonight, is 0-2 to start their swing through the U.S. Division.
"We played really good in Spokane (on Wednesday) and lost," Broncos coach Mark Lamb said. "I thought we did some good things tonight, but we were inconsistent. What I like about (Tri-City) is the way they compete, their back check, and their work ethic is pretty thorough."
Tied at 1 to start the second, Hughesman gave the Americans a 2-1 lead at 12:59, taking a pass from Rankin and beating Jon Groenheyde at the left post for his 17th goal of the season.
"I thought Rankin and Shinnimin played great," Hughesman said. "I was the beneficiary tonight."
Shinnimin, who already had two assists, potted a short-handed goal at 16:13 as Tri-City extended its lead to 3-1.
The play started with a Swift Current turnover as Drydn Dow picked off a pass around the back of the net by Tanner Muth and sent the puck out to Mason Wilgosh, who in turn sent it up ice to Shinnimin.
"This is something we have been waiting for all year from our line," Shinnimin said. "We haven't been that consistent. This was probably Rankin's best game."
The Americans continued their assault in the third with a goal by Wilgosh at 9:31, and another by Hughesman at 14:32, coming off a nifty pass from Rankin, for a 5-1 lead.
From there, the Broncos' frustration came to the surface.
There were three fights the last 5 1/2 minutes of the game.
"Teams like (Swift Current) that we don't see too often don't really know what to expect from us," Shinnimin said. "Our team is built off speed and skill. We try to use what we have to our advantage and that creates chances and that's why we win."
Tri-City got off to a quick start as Marcus Messier took a pass across the slot from Nate MacMaster and beat Groenheyde at the left post at 2:46 for his second goal this season.
The Broncos took advantage of a Tri-City turnover, and Coda Gordon's stretch pass to Colby Cave was on the mark. Cave went in alone on Comrie and tied the scored at 1 at 17:07.
Comrie finished with 24 saves to improve to 7-3-0-0.
"Our defense boxed out everything," Comrie said. "(Justin) Hamonic had his best game out there, and (Derek) Ryckman was outstanding. They all were great tonight. They blocked a lot of shots and everything was easy to track."
Notes: The Americans are 14-0-0-0 when leading after two periods, and are 13-0-0-0 when scoring the first goal of the game.