It took the Thunderbirds a while to get over the pass in time for their Sunday match up with Spokane but they didn’t let that stop them from a win.
Seattle dominated the third period in Spokane to erase a 1-0 Chiefs lead and win 2-1 behind goals from Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Gropp. The T-Birds outshot the home team 22-11 in the final frame as they finally got their offense going after 40 minutes of hockey.
The win was Seattle’s third in a row as it continues a stretch of 12 straight games against U.S. Division opponents. With the rest of the division idle on the day, the T-Birds picked up two points on everyone.
“I didn’t mind our first period,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I didn’t like our second at all. I didn’t think we were playing with our emotion at all and then a pretty good third.”
Despite some early pressure they weren’t able to generate many good scoring chances in the first period against Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill. They failed on two early power-play opportunities and Mathew Wedman rang a shot off the post and out.
The Chiefs would be the better team in the second period, drawing two power plays of their own and would open the scoring late in the period when Jaret Anderson-Dolan found a bouncing puck and slid it past Seattle goaltender Rylan Toth.
That made it 1-0 Spokane heading into the final frame.
“They could tell I wasn’t too happy with their energy,” Konowalchuk said about his second intermission message to the team. “They needed to step up and guys did.”
Like they did in their last road game, the T-Birds best period was their last.
Seattle (21-14-3-1) took the first 13 shots of the third period and started to buzz Weatherill and the Chiefs defense. Kolesar would tie it on Seattle’s 13th shot when he fired from the high slot, followed up and pounded the rebound past Weatherill for his sixth goal of the year.
Spokane (17-17-5-2) tried to make a push back but ran into a red hot Toth. The Seattle goalie ended the night with 27 saves and over his last 10 starts has a goals-against of 2.40 with a .931 save percentage.
“You can tell he’s got some confidence,” Konowalchuk said of his goaltender. “He’s got a swagger and he’s enjoying where he’s at right now.”
With Toth keeping the Chiefs at bay, the T-Birds worked on getting the go-ahead score. They would find that score with just under five minutes left in regulation.
Aaron Hyman got the puck to Ethan Bear in the high slot. Bear turned and fired a shot on goal that was deflected by Gropp past Weatherill. It was Gropp’s 10th of the season as the New York Rangers’ prospect has been playing well of late. While he hasn’t shown up on the scorecard, Gropp’s been playing a complete game, killing penalties and was rewarded with a big game-winning goal on Sunday.
He and Kolesar both have played well and both came up with big goals on Sunday.
“It’s good, it’s important and it’s expected,” Konowalchuk said. “They’ve been playing some pretty good hockey. I thought Gropp was ready to go from the first shift. He was ready to play and it was good to see him get rewarded. Those guys are playing good but they need to contribute and produce.”
Seattle will now head back across the pass and have another week off to practice before its next game, Saturday in Everett. It’s rare that a team gets back-to-back weeks with no weekday games and Konowalchuk says it’s not his favorite, but he’ll take it.
“I think one of the weeks is nice,” he said. “We’ll make due with whatever we have but I wouldn’t have minded one game mid-week either last or this. But we’ll take advantage of it and do some work.”
• Scott Eansor was back in the lineup for Seattle after missing Friday’s game with an injury. He started the game on the fourth line but worked his way back up the lineup as the game wore on.
• Sami Moilanen left the game in the second period and did not return. Konowalchuk said it was due to an upper body injury but had no update as to how serious it was.
• Mathew Barzal wasn’t in the lineup as he has not returned from the recently completed World Junior Championships. He is expected to be back with the T-Birds when they take on Everett this Saturday.
• The T-Birds had some struggles getting through the weather on Sunday. They were late getting to the arena and the start of the game was pushed back a few minutes. Konowalchuk said that the tough travel wasn’t an issue. “Our guys, I think they understand what our expectations are here,” he said. “Our expectations are no excuses for anything. You play hard, there’s no reason not to. You could tell, we were ready to play. They know how to get themselves ready and prepared.”