KENNEWICK -- Christmas was last week, but for Neal Prokop, his best gift came Wednesday night.
The Tri-City winger scored his first goal since coming back from a broken leg, helping the Americans beat the U.S. Division-leading Portland Winterhawks 5-1 before a crowd of 4,697 at Toyota Center.
"We weren't sure he would score a goal again in this league after what we saw last spring," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, who won his 68th game behind the Americans' bench, moving him into fourth place on the all-time wins list, surpassing Don Hay. "No one waited longer than him to see that one go in."
The Americans (21-11-1-1, 44 points), who also beat Portland (25-10-0-3, 53 points) 5-1 on Tuesday, now trail the Winterhawks by nine points in the standings.
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"I thought we played really well," said Portland coach Mike Johnston, whose team has lost three in a row. "I thought we played better than (Tuesday) night. We had better scoring chances, but their goalie was better than ours and their power play executed better than ours."
Tri-City goaltender Drew Owsley finished with 43 saves -- including 18 in the second period -- and picked up his third win this season against the Winterhawks.
"(Tuesday) was one of those games where you had to stay focused because there were five-minute gaps where you didn't see the puck," Owsley said. "Tonight was the opposite, I faced a lot of shots. Our (defense) did a good job of letting me see the puck and they cleared second chances."
The Americans played with five defensemen most of the game after veteran Tyler Schmidt left the game late in the first with an undisclosed upper body injury.
"I thought that was important," Hiller said of his team's defensive play. "When Schmitty went out, the rest of the guys did a good job. They were key to our victory."
Prokop, who broke his left femur March 23 in the playoffs against Chilliwack, wasn't given very good odds to play competitive hockey after his injury, but he returned to the ice Nov. 24 and had four assists in eight games before Wednesday's game.
Prokop's goal came with 13 seconds left in the first period as he picked up a rebound of a broken-stick shot from the point by Brock Sutherland and backhanded the puck past Keith Hamilton.
"Sometimes you just need a garbage one," said Prokop, who last scored a goal March 19. "It was nice to get that first one. It's been a long nine months."
Prokop's goal gave Tri-City a 3-1 lead at the end of the first. Adam Hughesman, with his 21st of the season, and Zach Yuen scored earlier in the period for the Americans.
Ty Rattie followed Hughesman's goal to tie the game at 1-1 at 13:07, but Yuen broke the tie, taking a pass from Brendan Shinnimin and beating Hamilton in the slot at 14:55.
The Americans got a pair of goals in the second from defensemen Drydn Dow and Sutherland to take a 5-1 lead. It was just the second goal of the season for each.
Dow's goal came off an innocent shot from the right circle. The puck ricocheted off Hamilton's pads and slowly rolled into the net at 10:48.
Two minutes later, Sutherland gathered the puck at the right point and sent a rocket of a shot to the net, beating Hamilton at 12:53, ending the goaltender's night with 17 saves.
"Marcus (Messier) one-handed it to me, I just put my head down and fired," Sutherland said.
Mac Carruth finished the game in net for Portland, recording 11 saves.
The third period was scoreless, but not for a lack of trying on Portland's part. The Winterhawks had 11 shots on goal, but couldn't get any past Owsley.
"They are a good team," Sutherland said. "Anytime you take your foot off the gas they will make you pay. We did a good job holding them off."
The Winterhawks were without Swiss forwards Sven Bartschi and Nino Niederreiter, and Ryan Johansen (Team Canada) who are away at the World Junior Championship. They also were missing defenseman Derrick Pouliot and forward Brendan Leipsic who are at the U-17 tournament.
"It has been a bit of an adjustment," said Johnson, who also lost Spencer Bennett to Vancouver in the trade for Craig Cunningham. "Six guys are out and one comes in. That's a big change. It will take some time to adjust."
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com