Desperation brings out the best in some teams.
The Tri-City Americans, whose playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, helped themselves to two big points Sunday night, knocking off the Kelowna Rockets 6-4 before a Toyota Center crowd of 3,171.
“We needed it,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said. “We dropped the biggest game Friday at Spokane. For our guys to buckle down and find a way to get these four points (including win over Everett on Saturday) is huge. We are still in a tough spot, but we have given ourselves a chance. Now we can sit back until Friday and watch what goes on.”
The Americans (33-34-2-1, 69 points), who host Seattle on Friday, are just two points back of Spokane in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The Chiefs, who have two games in hand, play their last four games on the road — Tuesday at Seattle, Wednesday at Everett, Friday at Portland and Saturday at Tri-City.
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“You can’t count us out,” said Tri-City forward Parker AuCoin, who had a goal and two assists. “We have to control what we can control and see what happens. Hopefully we can get some help from some other teams and do us some favors.”
The Americans got off to a hot start, getting two goals in a span of 1 minutes, 12 seconds midway through the first period.
AuCoin lit up the scoreboard at 8:07, while Dylan Coghlan followed at 9:19, reeling in a pass from Jordan Topping and finding an open net to the left of Kelowna goalie Brodan Salmond.
For AuCoin, the goal was the start of a career-high three-point night.
“It was a broken play off the face-off,” AuCoin said. “I’d played with their goalie before so I had some insight. I slid it five hole. It’s nice to get one in two games in a row. Our line (AuCoin, Nolan Yaremko and Mackenze Stewart) was really going. We have guys who are tired, and we knew we needed to step up. Nolan is a great guy. We have known each other a long time and we have played together before, so there is some chemistry there we are rekindling.”
Tri-City’s lead didn’t last long once the second period started. Goals by Calvin Thurkauf, Tanner Wishnowksi and Tyson Baillie put the Rockets (46-19-4-0, 96 points) up 3-2 just 8:56 into the period.
“They are an explosive team,” Williamson said. “If you give top guys opportunities, they are probably going to cash in, and they did. We had a couple of miscues. We gave them essentially a 2-on-0, and we mismanaged a rush, which basically was an empty-net goal for them. You can’t make mistakes against them.”
Stewart pulled the Americans even 6 1/2 minutes later, beating Salmond from inside the left circle, only to see Rourke Chartier put Kelowna back on top two shifts later.
Tri-City would have the last word, as Michael Rasmussen scored at 17:44 and Juuso Välimäki beat Salmond glove side with 6.1 seconds remaining for a 5-4 lead heading into the third period.
“Juuso’s, that was a huge goal, both Razz’s and his,” Williamson said. “We saw that lead slip away. We tied it up, then Juuso was able to score at the end of the second and that gave us some confidence. We played well and got some big, big saves in the third.”
The Rockets replaced Salmond with Michael Herringer in the third, and he stopped all eight shots that came his way. The one puck that found the net was an empty-netter by Topping with 44.1 seconds left in regulation to seal the win.
Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou stopped all 14 Kelowna shots in the third and finished with 32 saves.
Americans 6, Rockets 4
First — 1, TC, AuCoin 6 (Stewart, Yaremko), 8:07. 2, TC, Coghlan 4 (Topping, Bowles), 9:19. Penalties — Wishnowski, Kel (boarding), 9:53; Kirkland, Kel (interference), 13:36; Southam, Kel (roughing), 18:48.
Second — 3, Kel, Thurkauf 15 (Southam, Baillie), 2:15, 4, Kel, Wishnowski 6, (Lind, Coughlin), 4:41. 5, Kel, Baillie 41, 8:56. 6, TC, Stewart 4 (AuCoin, Wotherspoon), 15:36. 7, Kel, Chartier 24 (Soustal, Dube), 17:13. 8, TC, Rasmussen 18 (McCue, Lukin), 17:44. 9, TC, Välimäki 7 (AuCoin, Rasmussen), 19:53 (pp). Penalties — Stephens, Kel (tripping), 19:36.
Third — 10, TC, Topping 32 (Lukin, Bowles), 19:15 (en). Penalties — None.
Shots — Kel 8-14-14 — 36. TC 14-12-9 — 35. Power plays — Kel 0-0. TC 1-4. Goalies — Kel, Salmond 2-2-0-0 (26 shots-21 saves), Herringer (20:00 of 3rd, 8-8). TC, Sarthou 25-28-2-0 (36-32). Referees — Chris Schlenker and Fraser Lawerence. A — 3,171.