The Tri-City Americans have faced their fare share of bad luck this season, but things are starting to turn around.
Eric Comrie had 37 saves and Beau McCue added a goal and an assist as the Americans won their fourth consecutive game with a 3-1 victory over Seattle before a Friday night crowd of 5,199 at Toyota Center.
Celebrating Nuclear Night, the Americans blasted the Thunderbirds’ seven-game winning streak out of the water, while winning their seventh in a row on home.
“It’s awesome to get these wins at home,” said Tri-City forward Devon McAndrews, who had a second-period goal. “The fans are awesome here. It’s a wonderful place to play when the fans are on your side. The atmosphere was unreal and the fans were into it. A fun night for sure.”
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The Americans (24-21-2-2, 52 points), who opened up a nine-point lead on Prince George in the race for a playoff spot, are 5-1 on Nuclear Night, winning the first four before a 7-0 setback to Portland last year.
The Thunderbirds (29-15-2-3, 63 points), who are fourth in the Western Conference, shut out the Americans 4-0 last week in Kent, but had trouble finding the net Friday.
“Good job to their goaltender and good job to their defense,” said Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk. “They clogged the middle pretty good in the D-zone coverage and we didn’t get a lot of looks at the net.”
Braden Purtill gave the Americans a 3-0 lead at 6:36 of the third period, and the Thunderbirds finally found the net at 11:50 as Roberts Lipsbergs redirected a shot from the point by Ethan Bear.
Seattle had a power play with 2:08 left in the game, and pulled goalie Danny Mumaugh for an extra attacker, but could get no closer.
Tri-City, holding onto a 1-0 lead late in the second period, withstood two Seattle flurries of shots to keep the Thunderbirds off the scoreboard.
“Our defense is always good,” Comrie said. “For five defensemen to put in an effort like that is impressive. It’s fun to play behind them. There were tired at the end, you could see it in their faces.”
With time winding down in the second, the Americans gave themselves a little breathing room at 19:24 with McAndrews’ goal.
Jackson Playfair took the puck up ice, held up at the blue, then hit McAndrews cutting into the zone. McAndrews beat Mumaugh far side from the left face-off with 35.4 seconds left in the second period. It was his third goal of the season.
“I kind of saw him pull up,” McAndrews said of Playfair. “I had a burst of speed coming through the middle. It worked out perfectly. It came right on my stick and I had a nice gap between the D-men. It was perfect. I saw (Mumaugh), he was cheating short side for a bit and the far side opened up.”
The Americans found themselves behind the eight-ball midway through the first period as defenseman Riley Hillis was issued a major for kneeing and a game misconduct after upending Seattle’s Jaimen Yakubowksi.
The Thunderbirds got a quick shot to start their 5-minute power play, but from there the Americans’ fourth-ranked penalty kill controlled the puck.
With 2 1/2 minutes left on the Thunderbirds’ power play, Parker Wotherspoon knocked the puck away from Seattle defenseman Jerret Smith at the blue line and got the puck over to Beau McCue.
McCue went up ice and beat Mumaugh top shelf stick side to give Tri-City a 1-0 lead at 12:24. It was McCue’s team-leading fourth short-handed goal of the season and his 50th career WHL point.
“We need that,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller. We lost Riley early and we were down to five D-men. That was the swing, even though it happened early in the game.”