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T-Birds win Game 4 over Everett 2-1, take 3-1 series lead

EVERETT – The puck used in Friday’s night’s Game 4 had a Silvertips logo on it but the Seattle Thunderbirds gave it their stamp.

Seattle owned the puck all night long on way to beating a short handed, yet game, Everett squad 2-1 and is one win away from advancing to the Western Conference finals.

The T-Birds had Ryan Gropp back in the lineup Friday and he paced them with the game-winning goal while helping set up another. Seattle out shot the Silvertips 36-16 as they dominated the pace of play to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-finals series.

Playing without forward Dawson Leedahl – who was serving a one-game suspension –as well as Carson Stadnyk, Noah Juulsen and Graham Millar, the Silvertips iced a young lineup but didn’t go away quietly.

“They kept coming, kept pushing,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said of the Silvertips. “I thought we had some chances there, but couldn’t get that third goal to make life easier. But you know they’re going to keep fighting over there. I thought our guys just stuck with it…worked hard to (win).”

Seattle took advantage of the depleted line up and controlled puck possession throughout the night while piling up shots and chances on Everett goalie Carter Hart. The big goalie was good on Friday and made 34 saves to give his club a shot.

In the end though the T-Birds didn’t give Everett much of a chance at the puck which made for a relatively easy night for their goalie, Landon Bow, who only faced 16 shots on the evening.

The T-Birds dominated the first period Friday and didn’t allow an Everett shot until there were 29 seconds left in the period. Seattle threw 10 shots at Hart and took the lead on a goal that didn’t come without controversy.

Gropp took a shot on net and the rebound went off a crashing Josh Uhrich and into the goal. The T-Birds celebrated on the ice but the official was waiving the goal off, feeling that Uhrich had kicked the puck in. The play went to a lengthy video review while the players and crowd waited in anticipation.

After being on the phone with the replay booth, the referee waived the goal off again which sent the XFinity crowd into delight. The official skated to the T-Birds bench to explain the ruling to Konowalchuk while the jumbotron showed a couple of replays. Suddenly the referee turned and skated back to the scorers table and got back on the phone with the replay booth.

A few more minutes went by and the decision was reversed, it was a good goal and the T-Birds had taken a crazy one-goal lead.

“They couldn’t find the video the first time,” Konowalchuk said. “Then right as they were about to drop (the puck) they found the video thank goodness.”

For Uhrich, he was confident it was a good goal all along.

“It hit me in the shin pad,” he said. “I was just driving and I saw Groppy going wide there and he had a good shot off the pad. I just tried to get into the crease there, luckily it bounced right off me. A lot of the guys were asking if I kicked it or not. I didn’t think I did and I knew that it didn’t touch my skate.”

Uhrich has been playing a hard and physical game for the T-Birds so far in the playoffs. Friday night he was rewarded with a so-called greasy goal that team’s need to find in order to win playoff games.

“It’s pretty special,” Uhrich said. “Any time I can help my team out on the scoreboard it’s definitely a plus. Tonight I thought our team played very well and I’m just glad I can contribute.”

Seattle would extend its lead in the second, again thanks to Gropp.

Matthew Wedman chipped the puck to the Seattle blue line where Gropp took it before the Everett defender could get to it. He turned the jets on and got behind the Silvertips players to move in on Hart alone. He made a quick move and beat Hart on the blocker side to give the T-Birds a 2-0 lead and score his first goal of the playoffs.

After missing the last 10 games, Gropp was glad to be back in the lineup.

“Really excited,” Gropp said. “You watch for so long and its tough on you. The boys are winning and you want to be out there so bad. It’s a blast to be out there.”

Starting out playing on the fourth line with Uhrich and Wedman, Gropp eventually found himself playing a few shifts back on the top line with Mathew Barzal and Keegan Kolesar. He ended up playing a good number minutes on the night and looked like he had never missed any time.

After missing so many games with an upper-body injury, Gropp said it was good to get back and take a few hits to feel like he was truly back in the mix.

“It was a little scary to be honest,” he said. “I haven’t felt contact in some time but once I kind of took that first one, and gave a couple, it gave me confidence to play the game.”

The Silvertips were able to cut the lead in half later on in the second period on a nice individual play by Patrick Bajkov. He weaved his way through the Seattle defense to give himself some room in close and was able to slide the puck past Bow.

It gave Everett some life as they refused to go away quietly, despite being out-manned.

Seattle was able to keep them at bay by controlling the puck. Seattle dominated possession and often pinned the Silvertips in their own end. The line made up of Scott Eansor, Nolan Volcan and Donovan Neuls were especially good on Friday and hardly spent any time in their end of the ice. While they didn’t score, they played about 20 minutes on the night which meant that for nearly a third of the game, the puck was in the Everett zone, which was huge in getting the win.

“You talk about puck possession and playing in the other team’s end, they took that ice,” Konowalchuk said of the line. “We’d like to get that third goal but this is a tough place to play and it’s a tough team and anyway you can find a win in the playoffs (is good).”

While Everett was only one shot, one bounce away from tying it, the T-Birds clamped down on them in the third period. Seattle held them to just five shots in the final frame as once again, the Silvertips struggled to get the puck out of their own end of the ice.

Seattle now has a chance to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since the 1996-97 season with a win in Saturday’s Game 5. Seattle would go on to beat the Prince George Cougars that year to advance to their lone WHL finals appearance before losing to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Getting to the next round is an exciting prospect but the T-Birds aren’t thinking about that just yet.

“These guys are a very good hockey team,” Uhrich said of Everett. “We know that any night they can come out and beat us. We just have to play the best we can and put our best foot forward. When we do that we have a good chance to win.”

Game 5 is Saturday evening at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Faceoff is at 7 pm.

Notes

• After getting hit in the knee on Wedensday, Kolesar was back in the lineup Friday night. Everett’s captain, Dawson Leedahl was penalized on the play that hurt Kolesar and he was suspended for the hit. Leedahl is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday for Game 5.

• After struggling during the season series to score goals against the Silvertips, Seattle has outscored them 10-2 in the three wins in this series.

• With the injuries to Everett they were forced to dress 16-year-old  Wyatte Wylie who hails from Arlington, Wa. Wylie is the first player who played for Everett Youth Hockey to be drafted by the Silvertips.

• The T-Birds continue to come out of the gates strong in this series. Everett managed to get a few more shots than Seattle did in Game 3 but in the other three games in this series, the T-Birds have out shot the Silvertips by a 42-11 margin.

Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.