KENNEWICK — One month ago, the Tri-City Americans led the U.S. Division by 12 points.
After a 2-1 loss to Spokane on Saturday night before a crowd of 5,783 at Toyota Center, that lead has dwindled to three.
"The last four losses, we have outchanced teams, but (the puck) doesn't want to go in for us," said Americans coach Jim Hiller, whose team has lost five of its last seven games. "We played really hard tonight and we just have to stick with that intensity."
The Americans (41-17-1-2, 85 points) have a three-point lead over Everett in the U.S Division. Tri-City will play at home Tuesday vs. Portland before hitting the road for seven straight games.
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"We are going to have to do this the hard way," Hiller said of staying atop the division standings. "We have to do most of the work on the road. We will get it done."
James Reid finished with 32 saves for the Chiefs (38-20-3-1, 80 points), who have won seven straight and four in a row over Tri-City.
"I thought our penalty kill did a good job for us in the first two periods," said Spokane coach Hardy Sauter, who team killed off five Tri-City power plays. "James was the backbone of that penalty kill and he deserves a great deal of credit."
After two scoreless periods, Spokane scored two quick goals by Brady Brassart and Blake Gal in the first three minutes of the third period.
"Both of those goals, the puck was on our stick and in a handful of seconds it was in our net," Hiller said.
The Americans rang shots off the post and one off Reid's mask in the third, but failed to find the net until Brett Plouffe's blast from the point found its way through traffic in the slot and into the net with 1:38 left in the game.
With goalie Alex Pechurskiy on the bench for an extra attacker, the Americans sustained pressure in Spokane's end but were unable to get another puck past Reid.
"I'm happy with how we've played, but there is still a lot more ahead for us," Sauter said. "We've won seven in a row and we still trail Everett by two and are only one point ahead of Portland."
The first period was low on shots with Spokane outshooting Tri-City 6-4, but the Americans led in hits on the ice as Plouffe hammered Dominik Uher into the boards in front of the Chiefs bench early in the period, then put Kyle Beach on his backside with five minutes left.
The Chiefs came out firing in the second, and had three quality chances in the first five minutes, but Pechurskiy turned them away.
The Ams had three power plays in the second, including a 5-on-3 for 1:09, but came away empty.
NOTES: Pechurskiy, who stopped all 18 of Spokane's shots in the first two periods, finished with 22 saves. ... Spokane leads the all-time series with the Americans 130-113-1-5 with 13 ties. ... Kruise Reddick returned to the Americans lineup after missing six games with a foot injury. ... Tri-City D Jarrett Toll played his 262nd game, surpassing Eric Johansson for eighth on the team's all-time games played list. ... Tri-City put an end to Beach's 12-game point streak, which included 17 goals and 25 points.