Toyota Center was pretty in pink Friday night for the Tri-City Americans ninth annual Breast Cancer Awareness game — from the ice to the jerseys the Americans were wearing. The only thing that wasn’t pretty was the Americans’ game.
The Prince Albert Raiders broke open a close game with three goals in the third period to hand the Americans a 6-4 loss before a pink-clad crowd of 5,222 at Toyota Center.
“It was a frustrating night for us,” said Americans coach Jim Hiller, whose team has lost five in a row. “I thought our D-zone coverage for the most part was better, but we didn’t have an offensive push the first half of the game.”
The Americans (27-28-3-3, 60 points) failed to put more distance between themselves and Prince George for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Cougars lost to Kelowna on Friday, leaving Tri-City with a two-point lead.
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“We just want to win hockey games,” Hiller said. “It’s getting tight. If we win our games, we will be fine.”
Prince Albert (29-28-2-2, 62 points), which has won three in a row, is clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Americans fell to 6-3 on Breast Cancer Awareness Night, but the generosity of the fans generated $12,300 just in jersey sales for the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation. Final numbers won’t be available until the online auction ends Sunday night.
Over the past eight years, the event has raised $136,899.
The Raiders, behind two goals and an assist by Leon Draisaitl, won their first game at Toyota Center since the 2001-02 season.
Leading 3-2 after two periods, the Raiders got goals from Shane Danyluk, Carson and an empty-netter from Draisaitl with 1.6 seconds left in the game to seal the win.
“It was an emotional game,” said Americans captain Mitch Topping, who had two goals and an assist. “We would catch a break and get a goal and they would come right back.”
Topping’s second goal pulled the Americans to within 5-4 with 4:14 left in the game. Tri-City pulled goalie Eric Comrie for an extra attacker the final 2:26 of the game, but couldn’t even the score.
“We have to touch the goalie and be smart in the offensive end,” Topping said. “We have to do a better job of that.”
The second period brought a flurry of goals and the Americans came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game. But the Raiders would have the last laugh with a power-play goal at 18:06 to take a 3-2 lead.
Prince Albert jumped out to a 2-0 lead at 8:59 as Gage Quinney picked up a loose puck left at the top of the crease and slid it into the net.
Tri-City struck back 30 seconds later as Ty Comrie won a face-off and pushed the puck out to Topping at the right point. Topping fired the puck past Cole Cheveldave for his sixth of the season and a 2-1 game.
“Mitch had his strongest game of the year,” Hiller said. “He was very assertive and was aggressive in the defensive zone. He led the way.”
Rodney Southam tied the game at 2 at 14:06, reeling in a pass from Justin Gutierrez in the slot and beating Cheveldave for his third goal.
With 1:56 remaining in the second period and the Raiders working on a power play, Draisaitl was left alone in the slot. As the puck came off the wall, he went in on Eric Comrie and lifted the puck into the top left corner to put Prince Albert back on top.
In a less-than-stellar first period, the Raiders took a 1-0 lead at 12:46 on a goal by Collin Valcourt.
The Americans had cleared the puck out of their own zone, only to have it picked up by the Raiders in the neutral zone. Leon Draisaitl fed the puck up ice to Valcourt, who blasted it past Eric Comrie.
The Americans had a mere two shots on goal in the period, neither of which was a quality scoring chance.
Notes: Americans F Jesse Astles sat out the second game of his seven-game WHL issued suspension. Astles had a check-to-the head penalty and a game misconduct against Spokane on Feb. 15. The WHL disciplinary board said he targeted the head, left his feet to make the hit and is a repeat offender. The Spokane player was not injured on the play. ... Sunshine Collision Services donated $100 per goal scored in Friday’s game to the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation. Their donation was $1,000.