Scoring the first goal of the game has reaped big rewards for the Tri-City Americans this season.
Phil Tot scored with 30.3 seconds left in overtime as the Americans rallied for a 3-2 win Saturday night over the Everett Silvertips before a crowd of 4,127 at Toyota Center.
“Since my time here, I’ve been part of some pretty special victories and this is one of them,” said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team improved to 16-2-1-1 when netting the first goal. “You always want to work hard. Sometimes you work hard and don’t get the win, so tonight it was great to stick with it and get the win.”
The Americans (20-20-2-2, 44 points), who dropped a 6-3 game to Everett on Friday, stayed one step ahead of Prince George for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff race. The Cougars are four points back of Tri-City.
Everett (24-13-6-1) moved into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference standings with Spokane and Seattle — all three have 55 points.
With the score knotted at 1-1 after two periods, the Silvertips took a 2-1 lead at 15:03 of the third as Patrick Bajkov took a cross-ice pass from Remi Laurencelle and beat Eric Comrie at the left post.
Just 21⁄2 minutes later, the Americans were right back in the game after Braden
Purtill pulled the puck out of a scrum in front of the penalty boxes, went in all alone on Everett goalie Austin Lotz and backhanded the puck over Lotz’s left shoulder.
“I got off the bench, I went full speed and I saw the lane there,” Purtill said. “I wanted to get the puck in the net, get it tied up and win it in overtime. It feels really good.”
It was Purtill’s first goal since returning from the World Under-17 Challenge, and his first back at forward after helping out on defense before the Christmas break.
“I’m getting more confidence with my stick and working with my hands,” Purtill said. “Playing defense helped me get more awareness at both ends. I feel I can see the ice better.”
In overtime, Tot took a pass from Lucas Nickles, motored around the net and beat Lotz with a wraparound goal. Replay showed that Tot hit the post, the puck bounced off Lotz’s pad and he ended up kicking it in the net.
“To be honest, last night I did the same thing on our third goal but I didn’t get the puck to the net,” Tot said. “Tonight I made sure I got it on and far enough to get it in. When it went in I was pretty happy.”
Trailing 1-0 after the first, the Silvertips put 19 shots on goal in the second, and were rewarded with a power-play goal by Ivan Nikolishin at 12:40.
It was the 11th goal of the season for the Russian forward.
After being denied three times earlier in the period by Lotz, the Americans took a 1-0 lead at 9:07 of the first as Brian Williams’ shot from the left baseline found the net for his 26th goal of the season.
Williams, who leads the Americans in scoring with 37 points, one more than his point total from last season.
Everett looked to even the score at 18:58 as Bajkov thought he had beaten Comrie at the left post. Video replay showed he did not.
Comrie finished with 35 saves and picked up his 17th win.
“Eric is a rock for us back there,” Tot said. “What he does doesn’t go unnoticed.”
It was the first game at Toyota Center for new comers Josh Thrower and Jackson Playfair, who were acquired at the treade deadline, and they put in an honest night’s work.
“I thought Josh and Jackson were good both nights,” Hiller said. “They are two strong guys who really helped us. They are making plays, which you like to see.”