When the Tri-City Americans needed someone to take charge Sunday night, Adam Hughesman and Brendan Shinnimin stepped forward.
Hughesman had three goals, and Shinnimin had two goals and two assists to rally the Americans to a 5-3 win over the Prince George Cougars before a crowd of 5,091 at Toyota Center and reclaim the top spot in the Western Conference.
"It wasn't just me," Hughesman said. "We had a few guys -- though not enough -- step up. I think we wanted to play hard, but we panicked. We confused the two. Give them credit, they played great. They came in here and gave us all we could handle."
The Americans (49-19-1-2) are tied with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the race for the Scotty Munro trophy with 101 points. Tri-City has a one-point lead over Portland in a battle for the U.S. Division banner.
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Prince George (22-45-0-2, 46 points) is five points behind eighth-place Victoria with three games to play. The Cougars need to win out and get a little help along the way to make the playoffs.
"Prince George played terrific," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team has won four in a row. "They are fighting for something, too."
Former Tri-City goalie Drew Owsley and the Cougars enjoyed a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Americans wasted no time in getting back in the game.
Hughesman took a backhanded pass from Shinnimin and found a gaping hole behind Owsley to pull Tri-City within 3-2 just 34 seconds into the period.
"During the first intermission, we knew they would come out hard," Owsley said. "The goals were good goals."
Hughesman would tie the score at 7:16, getting a rebound off a Justin Feser shot in the slot and banging the puck in the net to complete his second hat trick this season and fourth of his career.
"I've felt something from him the last two games," Hiller said of Hughesman. "He's really coming into his own."
The three goals give Hughesman 136 for his career, putting him third all-time on the Americans' list behind Kyle Reeves (156) and Daymond Langkow (159).
"That's nice," said Hughesman, who has 14 goals in his last 13 games. "Me, Shinny and (Mason) Wilgosh want to go out on a high note. We are on the right path and we control our destiny."
Tied at 3 in the closing minute of regulation, Shinnimin weaved his way through traffic up the ice and blasted the puck past Owsley at 19:11 for the game winner.
The Cougars pulled Owsley to try and even the score, but Alex Forsberg, trying to get the puck up to the blue line, whipped it too hard and the puck slid down the ice and into the empty net at 19:29. Being the last Tri-City player to touch the puck, Shinnimin was credited with the goal.
Shinnimin, who leads the league in scoring with 129 points, extended his point streak to 20 games.
The Cougars, hungry for a playoff spot, feasted on Tri-City rookie goalie Eric Comrie to the tune of three goals on nine shots. Ty Rimmer replaced Comrie at 14:28, but the damage had been done.
Adam Hughesman opened the scoring, knocking the puck away from PG's Cody Carlson and taking it down beneath the right circle along the baseline. Hughesman's shot glanced off Owsley's right pad and into the net at 3:05.
The Cougars would score the next three, starting with Chase Witala at 4:59, and Jesse Forsberg made it 2-1 7 minutes later, finding an open net behind Comrie. Alex Forsberg gave PG a 3-1 lead, ending Comrie's night.
Rimmer stopped all 17 shots he faced to pick up his 30th win.
"That's the job as a goalie to be ready no matter the situation," said Rimmer, who picked up his fourth assist of the season on Shinnimin's first goal. "The needed me to come in and shut the door, and they finished it off at the other end."
Owsley, who needs three wins to reach 100 for his career, finished with 24 saves.
"It was surreal coming out on the ice," said Owsley of his first game at Toyota Center since a summer trade sent him to PG. "The fans are unbelievable here. It's tough when you don't have success. It's not very much fun."
Tri-City forward Patrick Holland finished with one assist to extend his scoring streak to 17 games. ... With a plus-5 rating on the night, Shinnimin moved to the top of the top of the league with a plus-46, while Holland and Americans defenseman Zach Yuen are tied for second at plus-43. ... With D-man Derek Ryckman out sick, Feser stepped back to play defense and was paired with Drydn Dow. ... With 101 points, the Americans eclipsed the century mark for just the third time in franchise history.
AMERICANS 5, COUGARS 3
Prince George 3 0 0 -- 3
Tri-City 1 2 2 -- 5
First -- 1, TC, Hughesman 44, 3:05. 2, PG, Witala 8 (Mykitiuk, A.Forsberg), 4:59. 3, PG, J.Forsberg 4 (Belter, Asuchak), 11:59. 4, PG, A.Forsberg 14 (Witala, Mylchreest), 14:28. Penalties -- Jackson, PG (tripping), 9:18.
Second -- 5, TC, Hughesman 45 (Shinnimin, Holland), :34. 6, TC, Hughesman 46 (Feser, Shinnimin), 7:16. Penalties -- None.
Third -- 7, TC, Shinnimin 56 (Yuen, Rimmer), 19:11. 8, TC, Shinnimin 57, 19:29 (en). Penalties -- Tkatch, PG (tripping), 3:03.
Shots -- PG 13-8-5 -- 26. TC 8-10-11 -- 29. Power plays -- PG 0-0. TC 0-2. Goalies -- PG, Owsley 21-37-0-1 (28 shots-24 saves). TC, Comrie (9-6), Rimmer 30-11-0-1 (14:28 of first, 17-17). Referees -- Colby Smith and Jason Nissen. A -- 5,091.