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Tri-City Americans notebook: Ams' playoff chances slipping away

The Tri-City Americans are coming off a week where they struggled on the road and at home. Despite beating Everett on Saturday, the Ams dropped a pair decisively against Seattle and another to Portland. That leaves them four points behind Spokane and five behind Portland for the final two playoff spots with only six games remaining.

Tyler Sandhu (19) scored twice against his former team, the Everett Silvertips, in Saturday's win.
Tyler Sandhu (19) scored twice against his former team, the Everett Silvertips, in Saturday's win.
Ben Nelms/Getty Images

The good news is, the Tri-City Americans play five of their last six games in the friendly atmosphere that is the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

The bad news: Tri-City will need to win nearly all of those games in order to reach the WHL playoffs for the 13th straight season.

After a week that saw a win and three losses, Tri-City is now four points out of the playoff race with only six games to go. Worse for the Ams, the teams they are battling in the playoff race (Spokane, Kamloops, Portland) all won at least once over the weekend.

The week started where the previous one finished - west of the mountains against a divisional foe. Tri-City was in Kent on Tuesday and fought toe-to-toe with the new U.S. Division leaders, but the Thunderbirds were too much in the third and pulled away for the win.

Friday in Portland saw more frustration in a 5-3 loss to the Winterhawks. It was the fourth straight loss on the road for the Americans. But Saturday in Everett saw the skid come to a halt behind two goals from Tyler Sandhu a stellar performance between the pipes from Nick Sanders.

Sunday was a surprisingly dismal performance on home ice against Seattle. A week of struggling now leaves Tri-City is desperate position to make the playoffs once again.

Here's a quick recap of the week..........

Seattle blows out Tri-City after four-goal third period

The Seattle Thunderbirds got hat tricks from Ryan Gropp and Mathew Barzal on the way to a dominant 7-2 victory on Tuesday in Kent.

Seattle scored four times in the third period after Gropp's first of the game gave Seattle a 3-2 lead late in the second. All four goals came in a span of 3:48 midway through the period.

Parker Wotherspoon (11) and Michael Rasmussen (14) scored for the Ams. Evan Sarthou was pulled midway through the third period, marking the third time in the past few weeks he's been yanked from a game. Sarthou stopped 22 of 28 shots, while Nick Sanders stopped 2 of 3 in relief.

Americans road struggles continue in loss at Portland

Every time Portland grabbed a two-goal lead on Friday, Tri-City quickly answered with a goal of its own. But the Americans could never get over the hump to tie the score, and Portland held on for a 5-3 win.

Portland held leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2, but Tri-City scratched and clawed and answered the bell each time, until Black Heinrich's empty-netter sealed the Winterhawks victory. Michael Rasmussen (15), Tyler Sandhu (17) and Vladislav Lukin (21) scored for Tri-City, while Evan Sarthou stopped 28 shots.

The loss was especially crucial considering the teams Tri-City is battling for a playoff spot - Portland, Spokane and Kamloops - all won games on Friday.

Sanders stands tall again, carries Ams past Everett

Tyler Sandhu potted a pair against his former team and Nick Sanders stopped 36 of 39 shots to earn first star honors as the Ams halted a pair of losing streaks by beating Everett 5-3.

The win ended a four-game road losing streak and three game losing streak overall.

It was the second straight week that saw backup goalie Nick Sanders stand on his head to earn the win. Sanders was at his best in the first period, stopping all 17 shots Everett sent his way. Goals from Michael Rasmussen (16) and Jordan Topping (30) gave the Ams a quick 2-0 lead. But Everett dominated the second, scoring twice on the power play to take a 3-2 lead. Sandhu's first was followed by Morgan Geekie's 11th of the season just 71 seconds later and that was all Sanders needed.

He's beginning to look more and more like a challenger to Evan Sarthou and the starting goaltender role. After earning only a handful of starts during the first half of the season, Sanders has built enough trust that he now sees regular playing time.

Ams return home, fall to Seattle

Another busy week ended Sunday with a dud at home against the new division leaders, the Seattle Thunderbirds. Seattle broke open a scoreless tie with a pair of goals in the second and two more in the third on the way to a 4-0 win.

Tri-City mustered only 17 shots in the game, including just four in the crucial third period. The Ams were no match on this evening against Seattle, who seems to be peaking at the right time. Nick Sanders got his second straight start in goal, stopping 31 shots.

Standings

Tri-City still sits in 5th place in the U.S. Division and 9th place in the Western Conference with a record of 31-32-2-1 (65 points). The Ams are four points behind Spokane (30-26-5-4), five behind Portland (33-28-4-0), 14 behind Everett (36-22-4-3) and 18 points behind division-leading Seattle (40-23-3-0). Tri-City is four points behind 8th-place Spokane and eight behind 7th-place Kamloops (32-25-5-4) for the final two playoff spots in the West.

Upcoming

The Ams have six games remaining, five coming on home ice at the Toyota Center. Tri-City hosts Kamloops on Tuesday, then heads to Spokane on Friday for the final road game of the regular season. The week wraps up with home games against Everett on Saturday and Kelowna on Sunday.

On the mend

Defenseman Juuso Valimaki returned to the lineup last week, and his return will be key for the Ams to make a run at the playoffs. Out for the season are forwards Austyn Playfair, Taylor Vickerman and Kyle Olson as well as defenseman Riley Hillis.

Ams add Sawchuk to roster

The club announced over the weekend the addition of forward Riley Sawchuk to the roster. Sawchuk, a 16-year old who was playing in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, was picked in the 6th round of the 2014 bantam draft by Tri-City. He joined the club in Kennewick upon their return from Everett.