With two big points on the line, Tri-City Americans captain Kruise Reddick took the reins and led his team to victory.
Reddick scored his third career hat trick and Drew Owsley finished with 35 saves as the Americans beat the U.S. Division-leading Portland Winterhawks 5-2 on Friday night before a sold-out crowd of 6,032 at Toyota Center.
"I like the big games," said Reddick, who had two goals the last time Tri-City played Portland. "Anytime you play a division game, it's a four-point night. Doing it against a top team, the stakes are even bigger. We played well tonight."
The Americans (30-13-2-1, 63 points) took a bite out of Portland's lead, trailing the Winterhawks by six points with five games in hand.
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"I thought it was a good game," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller. "A bounce here, a bounce there -- two even teams going at each other."
The Winterhawks (33-15-0-3, 69 points), who had their six-game win streak snapped, lead Spokane by just one point after the Chiefs beat Chilliwack.
"With a game like this, you need your top lines to be better and we weren't," said Portland forward Craig Cunningham. "It was a standard night in Tri-City -- they get that first power-play goal and we didn't push back."
Reddick didn't wait long to take control of the game, putting the Americans on the board early in the first, taking a pass off the left wall from Brendan Shinnimin and beating Portland goalie Mac Carruth up high for a power-play goal at 3:06.
"It's nice to get the first goal," Reddick said. "The fans are great, and they can take a team out it. We just kept rolling the whole game with momentum from our fans."
Reddick struck again at 10:31, this time with Jordan Messier doing the lion's share of the work.
Messier kept in a clearing pass by Portland's Derrick Pouliot, skated toward the net and put a shot on goal. The puck went wide of the net, but Messier chased it down and sent it out to Reddick who, on the second whack at the puck, beat Carruth at the left post.
"Kruise is our emotional leader," Hiller said. "He does a lot of things well; it's nice to see him get rewarded."
Portland's Brad Ross had a chance to cut the Americans' lead in half at 9:43 of the second period, getting behind the defense on the power play, but Owsley made a dandy glove save to end the threat.
"That save was huge for me and the team," Owsley said. "It was 2-0, and it could have made it a different game. I gritted my teeth and said, 'We are going to win this game.' "
The play may not have worked for the Winterhawks, but the Americans worked it to perfection as Matt MacKenzie sent a long pass up ice to Adam Hughesman, who had Carruth at his mercy. Hughesman kissed the puck off the cross bar for his 32nd goal of the season and a 3-0 lead.
Down but not out, the Winterhawks went to work on their fifth power play of the game. Swiss sniper Nino Niederreiter had an open net to the left of Owsley with a chance to put his team on the board, but Owsley robbed him with his glove.
"That was his best game in a long time," Hiller said of his goalie. "He was excellent."
Reddick completed his hat trick with 49 seconds left in the second period, blasting the puck past Carruth from the top of the slot on the power play.
Ross and Niederreiter each scored third-period goals for the Winterhawks, with Tri-City rookie Connor Rankin sandwiching a goal in between.