Every team has its Kryptonite. Friday, the Portland Winterhawks’ was Luke Lee-Knight.
The Tri-City Americans goaltender stopped 44 of 46 shots — including 32 over the first two periods when he held the Winterhawks scoreless — in leading the Americans to a 3-2 win at the Rose Garden.
The U.S. Division-leading Winterhawks had won 12 consecutive home games dating back to Oct. 20, before Lee-Knight and the Americans rolled into town.
“Luke was where it all started, and they all battled,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team hosts the Winterhawks today at Toyota Center. “We battled hard against a good team. We probably should have won Thursday (8-4 home loss to Seattle). We are 1-1 over the week, and (today) is a chance to put together a real solid weekend.”
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The Americans (18-11-1-1, 38 points) trail the Winterhawks (24-5-1-0, 49) by 11 points in the division standings and are seven points behind second-place Spokane (22-8-1-0). Portland comes into tonight’s game on the heels of a 6-2 win at Seattle on Saturday.
Lee-Knight was making just his second start Friday since joining the team last month.
“I was pretty excited to tell you the truth,” Lee-Knight said. “Portland is a great team and I wanted to see what I could do against them. I got a lot of shots early and that made it easier for me. A lot of guys were blocking shots out there and that helped.”
With the Americans holding a 3-2 lead with about 7 minutes left in the game, Lee-Knight stopped Ty Rattie on a short-handed breakaway, later stopped him during a Portland power play at 2:37, then denied Nic Petan with 5 seconds left in regulation.
Connor Rankin had a pair of goals Friday, with Malte Strömwall adding the third.
“It was nice to see Ranks score a couple of goals,” Hiller said. “His line (Brian Williams and Parker Bowles) continues to play well. That line specifically is growing with confidence. It goes back to the Vancouver game (Dec. 1). Brian is fearless and has great speed. Parker started strong, had a lull and now he’s coming back strong.”
Even though Lee-Knight had breakout game Friday, Hiller would not reveal if he or the Americans’ No. 1 starter Eric Comrie would be in goal today.
The first 2,000 fans today will receive an Americans’ 2012 U.S. Division Championship banner magnet, courtesy of Cascade Natural Gas. ... The Western Hockey League suspended Kamloops’ Aspen Sterzer for one game for an interference major and a game misconduct against Prince George on Friday. Also, the WHL will suspend Prince Albert’s Evan Morden for a checking to the head major against Kootenay on Friday. Morden’s suspension is to be determined.