KENNEWICK -- With first place in the Western Conference on the line, it was only fitting the game came down to a shootout.
Chase Schaber and Bronson Maschmeyer scored in the shootout to give the Kamloops Blazers a 4-3 victory Saturday over the Tri-City Americans before a rowdy announced crowd of 5,131 at Toyota Center.
"A great game between two of the top teams," said Tri-City forward Brendan Shinnimin, who had a goal and an assist. "I thought we had a chance to win. We had a lot of opportunities in the third. Their goalie stood on his head, and they beat us in the shootout.
"It hurts. This is tough to swallow."
The loss was the second in a row for the Americans (34-11-0-1, 69 points) at home, and the first time they lost in a shootout or in overtime this season.
"They played terrific," Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said of the Blazers. "It was a good game -- the best we've played in three months. I'm disappointed because we fought so hard to come back and not get two points. They fought as hard as they have in months, and I thought Zach Yuen had his best game of the year."
The Blazers (34-10-1-2) lead the WHL with 71 points -- two better than Tri-City and the Edmonton Oil Kings.
"I don't think anyone in that room has ever won in this building," said Schaber of the Blazers, who had not won at Toyota Center since Dec. 29, 2008 -- a span of five games. "It was a battle, for sure. Whenever you come into this building, with their loud fans, it's hard to come out with a win. We did a good job of sticking to our program for 60 minutes."
The Blazers carried their hot play from the first period into the second, extending their lead to 3-1 when Schaber scored his second goal of the night at 5:28.
After numerous turnovers and getting muscled of the puck by the Blazers, the Americans finally got their game turned around late in the period.
Shinnimin's shot from the top of the right circle found the net at 15:30 for his 100th career goal. Adam Hughesman evened the scored just 1:05 later, beating Cole Cheveldave from just inside the left circle.
"It's not like we have been playing bad hockey. It's been one or two bad plays that cost us games," Shinnimin said. "It's not a lack of effort. We won 13 in a row. It will take a little something to get us going again."
A scoreless third and overtime led to the shootout, during which the Blazers scored twice on Ty Rimmer. The Americans, who tried their luck with Hughesman and Patrick Holland, didn't get a shot off against Cheveldave.
"It was a huge team effort," Schaber said.
Tri-City's Justin Feser got the action going with a goal just 4:10 into the game as his shot from the right circle glanced off Cheveldave's glove and into the net.
The Blazers wasted no time in tying the score 45 seconds later as Schaber's shot from the top of the circles went past Rimmer's glove.
Brendan Ranford put Kamloops out front 2-1, taking advantage of its first power play of the night. Austin Madaisky's pass was just out of Tri-City defenseman Drydn Dow's reach, but Ranford scooped it up and went in on Rimmer for his 24th goal of the season. Ranford also had two assists.
Rimmer, who has lost his last four starts, finished with 29 saves. Despite the losses, he still leads the league with a 2.13 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
NOTES: Regina Pats coach Pat Conacher was fined $500 by the WHL for comments he made about the officiating after a 3-2 overtime loss to visiting Kootenay on Wednesday. ... Moose Jaw defenseman Dylan McIlrath was hit with an eight-game suspension by the league Friday, after a check to the head of Victoria Royals defenseman Jesse Zgraggen on Wednesday.
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com