On a night when the Tri-City Americans honored captain Justin Feser for setting the WHL Iron Man record with 312 consecutive games, the Seattle Thunderbirds threw a monkey wrench into the celebration.
First-period goals by Seth Swenson and Roberts Lipsbergs were all Seattle needed in a 3-1 victory Friday over the Americans before a crowd of 5,040 at Toyota Center.
“Give them credit, I thought they were hungrier than us,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “When you win you feel good about yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you can’t forget how you got there. Tonight, we didn’t want to work without the puck.”
The Americans (37-23-1-2, 77 points), who saw their six-game win streak come to an end, slipped to fifth in the Western Conference, one point behind Spokane, which beat Victoria in overtime.
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Tri-City, which has a game in hand on the Chiefs, plays at Seattle tonight.
“That game will be huge,” said Tri-City forward Connor Rankin. “Every game is huge from here on out. Coming down the stretch it’s important to get every point you can, especially with Spokane playing so well.”
The Thunderbirds (22-35-7-1, 52 points), who also got an empty-net goal by Luke Lockhart with 2.6 second remaining, ended a four-game slide and opened up a three-point lead over Everett in a fight for the last two playoffs spots in the Western Conference.
“Our guys played really hard and we were prepared from the start, that was key,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We made them work for ice and protected the middle. When there were shots, we were able to get sticks and bodies in the way.”
Trailing 2-1 going into the third, the Americans failed to make good use of their power play, awarded at the end of the second when Seattle’s Evan Wardley was whistled for interference.
Tri-City, which pulled goalie Troy Trombley the final 2:04 of the game, fired 14 shots on goal in the third, but Brandon Glover turned them all away.
“Brandon had good rebound control and stopped everything he needed to,” Konowalchuk said.
The Thunderbirds, trying to punch their ticket to the playoffs, got off to a two-goal lead in the first period.
With the puck at the right post, Swenson kept chopping away until it popped into the net behind Trombley at 10:59 for a 1-0 lead.
With 6 minutes left in the first, Lipsbergs flung the puck toward the net and beat Trombley far side for a 2-0 lead.
The Americans got one goal back midway through the second as Drdyn Dow came off the bench, took a cross-ice pass from Feser and shot the puck. Rankin, camped out in front of the net, redirected Dow’s shot past Glover at 9:31 for his 25th goal this season.
“Those goals are a lot nicer when you are on a winning streak,” Rankin said. “You would have thought honoring Feser tonight would have given us a boost to win (the game) for him. It’s disappointing we couldn’t do that for him.”
Trombley had 28 saves in taking his first loss after winning his first six starts.