After a day of playing planes, trains and automobiles, the Tri-City Americans finally got all of their players back in town for Friday’s game against the Portland Winterhawks.
The odd travel arrangements didn’t seem to hamper the Americans too much, but the Winterhawks did.
Defenseman Anton Cederholm scored 56 seconds into overtime as Portland rallied to beat the Americans 3-2 before a crowd of 4,815 at the Toyota Center.
“Yesterday made today a lot tougher,” said Tri-City veteran forward Connor Rankin. “Flights got mixed up, a lot guys didn’t get in until this morning or late last night. That being said, our effort was outstanding tonight. That is a high-end hockey team over there. We came close tonight, but we have to dig down deeper tomorrow to get the win.”
The Americans (17-16-2-2, 38 points) and Winterhawks (24-8-2-2, 52 points) are back at it again tonight, in Portland at the Memorial Coliseum. Five games into the 10-games series, the road team has won every time.
“It was a strong will and great work ethic to win,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team has lost five in a row. “It’s just disappointing. You hate to lose when guys dig in like that. We didn’t get the win, so we have to do it again tomorrow.”
Trailing 2-1 heading into the third, the Winterhawks pulled even at 10:29 as Garrett Haar’s shot from the point got past Eric Comrie, who thought he had the puck safely between his pads.
Portland had two great opportunities to score in the last 1:39 of regulation, but couldn’t get the puck past Comrie, who finished with 27 saves.
In overtime, Cederholm lifted the puck into the net as Comrie went down. It was just the second goal of the season for the Swedish defenseman.
“I don’t think I have melted down yet,” Cederholm said. “I’m not the one who usually scores those. I’m glad I made it for the team. I scored my first goal in the first game of the year. I thought I might as well start the second half with a goal.”
After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for three goals in the second as the Americans took a 2-1 lead.
The Winterhawks struck first as Oliver Bjorkstrand scored his team-leading 26th goal just 8 seconds into a power play at 3:21.
After a dustup along the boards at 10:50, the Americans came out of the fray with a power play, which Rankin parlayed into his 13th goal of the season.
Taylor Vickerman set up the play, sending the puck behind the net to Beau McCue. McCue sent the puck out front, where Rankin found a sliver of daylight between Brendan Burke and the post to tie the score at 11:57.
“Vickerman and Beau made a great play down low,” Rankin said. “(The puck) hopped up on my stick, I panicked and shot the puck. Luckily it went in. It just wasn’t enough.”
With 1:27 left in the second, a nifty tic-tac-toe play occurred from Marcus Messier to Phil Tot to Lucas Nickles, who had a wide open net behind Burke to give the Americans a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to play.
“We saw guys tonight in roles they haven’t been in,” Hiller said. “Riley (Hillis) and Hubes (Jeff Hubic) played a ton and the two young defensemen (Jordan Davies and Brendan O’Reilly) who came in and played really well. We weren’t sure what to expect. There were a lot of positives to take out of this. The negative was the loss.”
Note: Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkaruk is done for the season. The Calgary native will undergo surgery Jan. 7 in Vail, Colo., to repair an ailing hip injury. Shinkaruk was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, 24th overall, in the 2013 NHL Draft.