The Tri-City Americans sure know how to throw a party.
Trailing 3-2 after the second period, the Americans scored three goals in the first 7:55 of the third period to rally for a 6-3 Monday over the Spokane Chiefs before a rowdy New Year’s Eve crowd of 6,098 at the Toyota Center.
“It was a memorable night, for sure,” said rookie Parker Bowles, who had two goals and one assist for the Americans. “I’ve never played before a crowd this full. The crowd was into it and made it pretty special.”
Tri-City (21-14-1-2, 45 points) leads the New Year’s Eve series 15-6-0-1 with one tie. With the win, the Americans pull within four points of the Chiefs in the U.S. Division standings.
“This was a nice way to close out 2012,” Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said. “We had a good second half last year and a good first half this year with a young team. Tonight was a special night. It’s a great tradition and entertaining for the fans.”
The Chiefs (24-12-1-0 (49 points) are 4-2-1-0 against the Americans this season, but have lost their last two against their division rival.
Trailing 3-2 after 40 minutes, the Americas turned up the heat in the third. Bowles scored his second of the night just 2:06 into the period, redirecting a shot from the point by Michal Plutnar to tie the score at 3.
Veteran defenseman Drydn Dow gave Tri-City a 4-3 lead at 7:41 as his shot from the right point found the far side of the net and Connor Rankin kept the goals coming, taking a pass from Bowles and beating Spokane goalie Eric Williams at 7:55 for a 5-3 lead.
“That was a great play by Bowles,” said Rankin, who also had two assists. “He was aggressive with the puck. It was an easy night for me playing with those two (Bowles and Brian Williams).”
Rankin said when the Americans came out in the third, they knew they needed to find a way to win.
“It was a sold-out crowd and we didn’t want them to win on our night,” Rankin said. “We came with the mentality we didn’t want to lose, and it paid off.”
Beau McCue finished the scoring at 12:28, knocking the puck away from Spokane’s Reid Gow at the Americans’ blue line and taking it up ice. McCue’s shot appeared to have been stopped by Williams, but the puck slid into the net under his pads.
“The last couple of games we were just a shot away from winning,” Bowles said of back-to-back 4-3 losses to Portland. “It’s nice to end 2012 with a really big win.”
It didn’t take long for the Americans to give their fans something to cheer about. Just 3:20 into the game, Marcus Messier took a pass from Jesse Mychan, skated into the right circle and beat Williams stick side for a 1-0 lead.
It was Messier’s first game back since being hurt Nov. 30 at Kamloops. He missed nine games and Tri-City was 4-5 with him out of the lineup.
The Chiefs came right back with a goal by Brenden Kichton in the slot at 5:43, but a couple of late penalties by Spokane helped the Americans take a 2-1 lead by the end of the first.
Working on their second consecutive power play, Bowles pulled the puck out of a scrum in the left corner, skated into the slot and put the puck past Williams at 17:59 for his ninth goal of the season.
Spokane put a damper on the Americans’ good cheer in the second, scoring a pair of goals to take a 3-2 lead.
Heading up ice at the end of a Tri-City power play, Spokane’s Mike Aviani slid the puck to Blake Gal, who slipped it in at the right post to tie the score at 2 a 9:51.
With just 53 seconds left in the second, Kichton sent the puck toward the net and Mitch Holmberg found a sliver of daylight to the left of Comrie to give the Chiefs a 3-2 lead.
Comrie finished with 30 saves and picked up his 18th win of the season.
Notes: With 21 wins in 38 games, the Americans are on pace to tie the WHL record for most consecutive 40-win seasons with seven. Kamloops (1989-96) and Regina (1979-96) are the only teams to accomplish the feat. ... Over the last 25 years, the Chiefs lead the regular-season series with the Americans 147-128-2-5 with 13 ties.