The Tri-City Americans’ power play hasn’t been very profitable this season, but Tuesday night it paid big dividends.
The Americans scored twice on the man advantage, including the game winner by Lucas Nickles with 1:38 to play, to squeak past the Kamloops Blazers 2-1 before an announced crowd of 3,052 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really exciting game,” said Americans goalie Eric Comrie, who finished with 26 saves. “And a really big game for our team standings wise. We just have to keep building on this one for the weekend.”
The Americans (19-19-2-2, 42 points), who are 3-0 against the Blazers this season, stayed one step ahead of the Prince George Cougars, who are five points back of Tri-City for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Kamloops (10-28-2-2), the last-place team in the Western Conference, lost its third in a row.
Tied at 1-1 after the second period, Comrie and Kamloops goalie Taran Kozun kept the nets clear nearly the entire third period. It wasn’t until the Americans were awarded a power play at 17:27 that they finally found the net.
Nickles corralled a pass from Phil Tot and his shot from the right face-off circle beat Kozun far side over his left shoulder for his fourth game-winning goal.
“I saw something from earlier, so I came in and shot that way,” Nickles said. “He was cheating over short side so I figured I would put it toward the far side, and I put everything I had into it.”
Kamloops pulled Kozun with 1:05 remaining for an extra attacker, but couldn’t get anything past Comrie.
The Americans’ power play, which ranked 18th before the game, provided the game’s first goal as Brian Williams picked up a rebound off a shot from the point by Brandon Carlo and beat Kozun at 14:51.
“We need to score goals and we’ll take them on the power play,” Americans coach Jim Hiller said. “Equally important was the penalty kill, especially the last two of the game. Those moments defined the game.”
The Blazers answered 20 seconds after Williams’ goal as Josh Connolly shoved a loose puck in the net at the left post.
In a back-and-forth first period, the Americans outshot the Blazers 10-7, including four quick shots to start the game.
Nickles and Williams each had point-blank shots on goal, but Kozun was there for the stop.
“Give credit to him, he kept his team in it,” Comrie said of Kozun. “He made a couple of great saves in the first to keep it scoreless.”
Tri-City killed off all five Kamloops power plays, including one with less than 5 minutes left in the game. The Blazers fired away at the net, and Cole Ully rang the puck off the post, but they couldn’t connect.
“They had chances on their power plays, so give them credit there,” Hiller said of the Blazers. “It was one of those games where one shot and you lose. One bounce and you lose. Fortunately for us, we stuck with it and got the win.”
Notes: Jimmy Olstad, father of former Tri-City forward Tanner Olstad, died Jan. 3. His service is Friday in Calgary. ... Defenseman Mathew Dumba will join the Portland Winterhawks after the Minnesota Wild returned him to the WHL after playing 13 games at the NHL level. Dumba’s rights were acquired from the Red Deer Rebels, who will get three second-round picks from 2014-16.