KENNEWICK -- Shinn-uary is over, and Brendan Shinnimin and the Tri-City Americans will finish the regular season with nine games this month.
Shinnimin, who leads the Western Hockey League in scoring with 117 points, finished the month of February with 23 goals and 20 assists in 14 games. He was named WHL Player of the Month.
"You look back at it, and I probably couldn't do it again if I tried," Shinnimin said of his 43-point month. "You come to the rink every day prepared, and good things happen. Coming down the stretch, I will play the same way and hope good things continue to happen."
"During that stretch, we won games, but we have to put it behind us and move on to the next month and the next game," Shinnimin said. "We have Portland (on) Friday, and it's a huge game -- a first-place game. We will come with our best, that's for sure."
Today starts a new month for the Americans (45-15-1-2), ranked third in this week's Canadian Hockey League poll. They will take on U.S. Division rival Portland (44-15-3-1) tonight at Toyota Center and Sunday at the Rose Garden. Tri-City will play Saturday at Everett.
"It's exciting. It's the best time of the year," Americans coach Jim Hiller said. "Playoffs haven't started, but the jockeying for positions the last couple of weeks makes it feel like it already.
"These games have a lot of meaning. It's the last two weeks, and these nine games will affect the standings for a lot of teams, not just us and Portland. Everyone is seeing where they will fit in."
Portland coach Mike Johnston agrees.
"It's exciting for us, and I'm sure Tri is looking forward to this weekend," Johnston said. "These two games are so important in the overall standings. With a 72-game season, sometimes games blend together, but there are ones that stand out. The players have extra focus, like a do-or-die playoff game. The games are separated by a day, and each plays in between. It makes it even."
The Americans lead the race for the Scotty Munro trophy with 93 points, while Portland and Kamloops have 92 and Edmonton has 91.
Tri-City looks to win its fourth division title in five years, while the Winterhawks look to repeat.
"We have a nice little competition with Portland coming down the stretch, but those games don't mean anything if you don't win the others," Shinnimin said. "We also play a lot of other great teams who are playing for playoff spots, not just Portland. We have to focus on them all."
The Americans lead the season series against the Winterhawks 5-3. Portland has won just once at Toyota Center this season -- 4-2 on Feb. 10.
While Shinnimin leads the league in scoring, which includes 52 goals, Portland counters with Ty Rattie (106 points). Rattie also has 52 goals -- 26 of which have come via the Winterhawks' top-ranked power play (29.6 percent).
"You look at the teams in our conference, and we have similar styles of play," Johnston said of the Americans. "Others have different styles of play. We both have top-end players on the ice, and both have good depth. If (Sven) Bartschi (87 points in 44 games) had played the whole season, he might have 130 points. We play 10 times during the year, and yet our two teams are at the top of the league."
Hiller said fans couldn't ask for a better game.
"You are going to see two of the best teams in the league on the ice, and a handful of elite players in the league," Hiller said. "You will see a lot of passion and emotion."
While both teams have an arsenal of weapons, it could be the goaltenders who have the final say.
Tri-City has the top goaltending tandem in the league with Ty Rimmer (2.40 goals against average, .922 save percentage) and Eric Comrie (2.53, .904). Rimmer is 4-2 against the Winterhawks with two shutouts.
Portland's Mac Carruth (2.87, .908) leads the league with 39 wins.
"Carruth and Rimmer are both good goaltenders," Johnston said. "They will be a factor."
Rattie's 26 power-play goals are the most in one season since Brandon's Eric Fehr scored 31 during the 2003-04 season. The WHL record of 47 is held by Swift Current's Jason Krywulak (1992-93). ... The Americans signed Beau McCue, 16, to a standard WHL players contract. The 6-foot, 180-pound McCue has played 39 games for the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes U-16 team of the Tier 1 Elite League, scoring 16 goals with 10 assists. The Missoula native was listed by Tri-City in October 2010. Last August, he attended the Americans rookie camp and won the camp offseason fitness award. McCue also is an honor student with a 4.0 grade-point average. ... Moose Jaw's Kenton Miller was suspened by the league for one game for a boarding major and a game misconduct against Red Deer on Tuesday. He joins teammate Cody Beach, who received a two-game suspension earlier in the week for an accumulation of embellishment penalties during the season.
* Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574; email@example.com