In a heated battle between the top two teams in the U.S. Division, the Portland Winterhawks used a combination of speed, skill and solid goaltending to pull within one point of the Tri-City Americans in the standings.
Mac Carruth had 30 saves and the Winterhawks scored three goals in the third period to hand the Americans a 4-2 loss Friday night before an announced crowd of 4,613 at Toyota Center.
"It's always fun when we play Tri-City," said Portland's Brad Ross, whose empty-net goal with 49 seconds left sealed the win. "It's hard to win in their barn. We have to play really good, and we did that."
With the loss, the Americans (37-14-1-1, 76 points) trail the Kamloops Blazers by six points in the Western Conference race.
"They were better than us. They deserved to win," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. "We weren't physical enough, and it took us until the third to create in the offensive zone. It's a long season, and right now it has been difficult for us. Not too many people outside our dressing room feel sorry for us."
The win was the first in four tries for Portland (36-15-2-1, 75 points) at Tri-City, and just its second win over the Americans this season.
"I thought we played well early and didn't give them too many chances," Portland coach Mike Johnston said. "In a game like this, between two good teams, it's important to get a good start."
With Portland leading 1-0 after two periods, Chase De Leo made it 2-0 at 2:52 of the third, and Ty Rattie gave the Winterhawks a 3-0 lead at 8:28.
The Americans rallied to get back in the game with goals by Justin Feser at 14:44 and Brendan Shinnimin at 18:25. Tri-City pulled goalie Eric Comrie for an extra attacker with a minute left in the game, but Ross sealed the win with his goal.
"We played our best hockey with 5 minutes left," Shinnimin said. "You have to play 60 minutes if you want to win. We need to get back to what we do to have success. We need to figure it out. If not, we won't be in it very long."
Ross said he wasn't surprised that the Americans made a late charge.
"That just shows how good a team they are," Ross said. "You take your foot off the gas and they score two quick ones. When I scored that goal, it was a big sigh of relief."
The Americans had a chance late in the second period and early in the third to do some damage after being awarded a 5-minute power play after Portland's Joe Morrow checked Tri-City defenseman Zach Yuen into the boards.
Tri-City managed three shots on goal the first half of the power play, then opened the third with three more shots to finish, but couldn't find the net.
Portland opened the scoring late in the first as Marcel Noebels slid the puck across the slot in front of Tri-City defender Sam Grist and onto the stick of Sven Bartschi, who found daylight behind Comrie at 16:20.
Comrie finished with 33 saves for the Americans, who were outshot 37-32.
"Comrie played really well," Hiller said. "No question he was our best player tonight."
Portland 1 0 3 -- 4
Tri-City 0 0 2 -- 2
First -- 1, Por, Bartschi 19 (Noebels, Wotherspoon), 16:20. Penalties -- Noebels, Por (interference), 2:33; Pouliot, Por (interference), 8:03; MacMaster, TC (interference), 10:38.
Second -- No scoring. Penalties -- Holland, TC (kneeing), 9:53; Rattie, Por (goaltender interference), 10:26; Leipsic, Por (roughing), 15:28; Shinnimin, TC (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:28; Morrow, Por, major (checking from behind, game misconduct), 17:30.
Third -- 2, Por, De Leo 10 (Reid, Gabriel), 2:52. 3, Por, Rattie 43 (Ross), 8:28 (pp). 4, TC, Feser 27 (Mychan, Hamonic), 14:44. 5, TC, Shinnimin 32 (Holland, Dow), 18:25. 6, Por, Ross 32 (Leipsic, Rutkowski), 19:11 (en). Penalties -- J.Messier, TC (high-sticking), 7:18; Eviston, Por, major (fighting), 19:49; Nickles, TC, major (fighting), 19:49; Portland bench (unsportsmanlike conduct), 1955; Tri-City bench (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:55; Leier, Por (misconduct), 19:55; Walter, TC (misconduct), 19:55.
Shots -- Por 14-11-12 -- 37. TC 8-11-13 -- 32. Power plays -- Por 1-3. TC 0-4. Goalies -- Por, Carruth 33-13-1-0 (32 shots-30 saves). TC, Comrie 16-5-1-0 (36-33). Referees -- Jeff Ingram and Jason Nissen. A -- 4,613.