Portland, OR - As Elton John was performing I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues next door in the Rose Garden, the Tri-City Americans were feeling the blues inside the Memorial Coliseum.
Falling into a 3-0 hole early on, the Tri-City Americans (39-14-0-2, 80 pts) could never fully recover, as they fell to the Portland Winterhawks (35-20-2-1, 73 pts) 5-3 in front of 1,844 fans. With the win, Portland snapped their six-game losing skid to Tri-City this season and have now won five of their last six games. They also pulled to within seven points of the Americans in the race for the U.S. Division crown. Meanwhile, Tri-City, who gave up five goals for the first time since Jan. 3 vs. Saskatoon, fell to 2-3-0-2 on the road since the start of the New Year.
The two high-flying clubs launched a combined 26 shots on goal in the first period alone but, by the end of the first 20 minutes, the Americans found themselves down by two. With 2:26 remaining in the period, Nino Niederreiter beat Drew Owsley with a backhander over the glove to put the 'Hawks on the board. Then, with 15 seconds left in the period and on a 5-on-3 power play, Joe Morrow blasted a shot from the right point for the 2-0 lead.
In the second, Portland wasted little time in keeping their momentum going, as Spencer Bennett scored just 3:20 into the period. Coming in on Owsley uncontested off the wall, Bennett let a snap shot go from the high slot, beating him over the glove. Owsley, who allowed three goals on 16 shots, was pulled in favor of Alexander Pechurskiy following the goal.
The move appeared to light a fire under the Americans, as they picked up their intensity. Just over four minutes after Pechurskiy's entrance, Patrick Holland was awarded a penalty shot after he was hauled down by Morrow on a breakaway. But, it proved to be a worthwhile penalty, as goaltender Mac Carruth collected his attempt. Then, three minutes after Holland's penalty shot attempt, Tri-City finally cracked Carruth's shell when Neal Prokop stuffed in a rebound from Holland's shot from the mid-slot.
The nail in the Americans' comeback coffin, however, came with just under seven minutes remaining in the period. Portland notched the first of two goals in a 1:09 span when Troy Rutkowski picked off a poor clearing pass in the Tri-City zone and sent a drive from the right point past Pechurskiy. Then, at the 14:13 mark, Luke Walker took advantage of a defensive lapse by Tri-City, skating past two defenders and beat Pechurskiy with a wrist shot from the slot. And, just like that, what once was a two-goal deficit quickly turned into an insurmountable four-goal grave.
The Americans, however, who have used some comeback magic over the past couple weeks, started back up the hill. With 3:18 remaining in the second period and on a 5-on-3 power play, Justin Feser fired a shot from the top of the right circle, beating Carruth low on the glove side to make it 5-2. But, the vaunted Tri-City power play could not take advantage of the remainder of the man-advantage opportunity, as they headed into the locker room down by three.
Midway through the third period, Tri-City made things interesting when Holland's shot found its way through the pads of Carruth. The play was reviewed after Feser was knocked into Carruth by a 'Hawks defender. But, the video goal judge upheld the goal, cutting Tri-City's deficit back down to two.
With two minutes remaining in regulation, Portland's Brad Ross and Tyler Schmidt got into a scuffle, which ended with Ross being charged with a double-minor for spearing after their roughing penalties offset. But, Carruth and the 'Hawks held off the Tri-City power play to secure the win.
Carruth stopped a season-high 38 shots in route to winning his third straight start. Meanwhile, Pechurskiy, who was credited with the loss, and Owsley combined for 21 saves in the loss. The Americans finished 1-for-7 on the power play, while Portland was 1-for-2 on the man-advantage.
After a practice day on Thursday, the Americans will return to the ice on Friday, February 12 when they welcome the Chilliwack Bruins to the Toyota Center on Breast Cancer Awareness Night. Game time is 7:05 p.m. Tri-City and Chilliwack are tied at 1 in the four-game season series, with the Americans taking the last meeting, a 5-0 win back on Jan. 10 in Kennewick. Tri-City is 3-1 in the four-year history of the annual pink ice night. Meanwhile, the Bruins, who are making their final trip of the regular season to the Toyota Center, come in having lost six of their last 10 games. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster outlets, including the Toyota Center box office, all Fred Meyer locations, or online at ticketmaster.com. The game will also be broadcast live on NewsTalk 870 AM, starting with the Sterling Savings Bank Warm-up Show at 6:45 p.m.
Applebee's 3 Stars:
1, Troy Rutkowski, Portland
2, Mac Carruth, Portland
3, Nino Niederreiter, Portland