KENNEWICK — Sometimes, what's least expected has the biggest impact.
Tri-City defenseman Sam Grist started a barrage of goals that helped the Americans rally from a 2-0 deficit in the second period to a 6-3 victory Saturday night over the Victoria Royals before a crowd of 4,778 at Toyota Center.
"Every game the rest of the way is going to be tough," said Tri-City coach Jim Hiller, who picked up his 200th WHL coaching victory. "At the end of the night, I'm satisfied if we win."
The Americans (37-12-1-1, 76 points) still are two points back of Kamloops in the race for the Scotty Munro trophy, but they have two games in hand.
Victoria (17-31-2-4, 40 points), which is clinging to a playoff spot in the Western Conference, is 9-25-2-4 since it handed the Americans a 5-4 loss at Toyota Center on Oct. 25.
"The second half is hard and every game is tough," said Americans veteran forward Adam Hughesman, who had a pair of goals and two assists. "Seattle and Victoria are battling for playoff spots. We are happy with the win. Both goalies played really well. (Victoria's Keith Hamilton) played well at the start and (Ty) Rimmer kept us in it all night."
The Royals jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the second with goals by Jesse Crooks at 1:51 and Brandon Magee at 10:13, but it was all Americans from there.
"We were in a hole, no doubt," Hiller said. "We didn't sag, we pushed. We aren't going to give up, not at home."
Grist started the ball rolling, taking a cross-ice pass from Brendan Shinnimin and beating Hamilton from the left circle at 11:59 to cut Victoria's lead in half.
It was just the second career goal for Grist, and his first at Toyota Center.
"I was pretty excited," said Grist, who also had his first multi-point night. "It was a good pass. Someone had to step up, I just didn't expect for it to be me. I'm glad to help the team out. This was a good weekend for our confidence."
A steady stay-at-home defenseman, Grist earned praise from Hiller.
"Sam was a star tonight and he deserved that," Hiller said. "I'm always happy to see the guys banging away at it to get one. It feels good to score a goal."
Playing 4-on-4, Tri-City evened the scored as defenseman Zach Yuen slid the puck under Hamilton at 17:33.
Shinnimin wrapped up the scoring in the second period just 23 seconds later, scoring a wrap-around goal -- with an assist from Grist -- for his 31st goal of the season.
Jesse Mychan scored the opening goal of the third for the Americans just 43 seconds into the action, stealing the puck from Victoria's Jordan Fransoo and sliding it home.
Hughesman added goals at 2:39 and 5:42 -- both with assists from linemates Shinnimin and Connor Rankin -- and the rout was on.
Hughesman's two goals gave him 121 for his career, passing Bill Lindsay (120) for sixth on the team's all-time goals scored list.
Victoria's Jesse Zgraggen scored with 1:31 left in the game, but it wasn't enough to change the outcome.
Rimmer finished with 32 saves for Tri-City, while Shinnimin had three assists.
In a scoreless first period, the Americans' top-ranked penalty kill flexed its muscle, killing off three Victoria power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 1:01, in which the Royals managed just two shots on goal.
Tri-City outshot Victoria 15-13 in the first, including a short-handed breakaway by Nate MacMaster at 5:25, but the Americans couldn't get anything past Hamilton, who finished with 30 before being pulled after the Americans scored their sixth goal.