KENNEWICK — Going into Tuesday night's game with Portland, the Tri-City Americans had played one less game than U.S. Division rivals Everett and Spokane, and had a slim lead in the division standings, making a win that much more important.
The Americans delivered, scoring three goals in the first 52 seconds of the game en route to a physical 6-0 victory over the Winterhawks before a crowd of 3,901 at Toyota Center.
"We haven't had a start like that in a while," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, whose team is 7-1 against Portland this season. "We found it in a hurry tonight. This is the one to get us back on track. It was a big game for a lot of reasons."
The game, the 62nd for the Americans (42-17-1-2, 87 points), put them even with Everett and Spokane, and gave them a five-point edge over the Silvertips.
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Portland (38-23-2-1, 79 points), which is in the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season, never recovered from the early onslaught.
The Winterhawks, who had just eight penalty minutes in the first period, tallied 103 for the game, compared to 44 for the Americans.
"Back to the good old days," Hiller of the game's physical play. "It's always that way with Portland. They are a big, physical team that moves well. They challenge you."
As the Americans' lead grew, so did the rough and tumble play of the Winterhawks, who at one time had four players in the penalty box. Portland had 63 penalty minutes in the third, which led to a pair of power-play goals by the Americans.
"They all had a good game," Hiller said of his team. "The power play scored and in the second and third Alex had to make some big saves. This is well deserved."
Alex Pechurskiy's finished with 31 saves for his fourth shutout of the season as the Americans snapped a two-game losing skid.
Justin Feser wasted no time in lighting up the scoreboard, beating Portland goalie Mac Carruth just 27 seconds into the action off a nice pass from Neal Prokop.
Not to be outdone, Johnny Lazo gave the Americans a 2-0 lead just 13 seconds later, following up on a shot by Kruise Reddick.
Mason Wilgosh got into the action 12 seconds later, beating Carruth at the left post off an assist by Adam Hughesman to make it 3-0. With the assist, Hughesman reached 100 assists and 150 points for his career.
Carruth's night lasted just 52 seconds after giving up three goals on four shots. He was replaced by Ian Curtis, who allowed three goals on 33 shots.
The Winterhawks came out firing in the second, outshooting the Americans 18-5. Portland also had three power plays -- including a three-minute stretch after Tri-City's Todd Kennedy plowed under Portland's Eric Doyle and was ejected from the game.
But Portland still had a zero on the board at the end of the second period, while Tri-City extended its lead to 4-0 with a power-play goal by Jordan Messier at 7:36.
Messier and Feser each had a power-play goal in the third period to finish off the scoring, while Reddick, in just his second game back from a foot injury, chipped in three assists.
"It's nice to get back and get a win," Reddick said. "We needed that. We let our (U.S. Division) lead go a bit and we had to focus tonight. We were all focused, not jut a few of us."
It was the last home game for the Americans until March 10. They will play the next seven games on the road, including two in Portland.
-- Portland defenseman Luca Sbisa is playing with Team Switzerland at the 2010 Olympic Games. The Swiss defeated Belarus 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday.