KENT – With one game left in the regular season, the Seattle Thunderbirds are going to have to settle for second place.
The Thunderbirds lost a chance to win back-to-back U.S. Division titles Saturday night when they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Portland Winterhawks. The loss, coupled with Everett’s 5-2 win over Victoria makes the Silvertips the division champs, while Seattle will finish second.
Portland’s Colton Veloso scored twice, and added an assist, for the Winterhawks in the win. It broke a four-game win streak Seattle had over its rivals and snapped a 17-game home win streak for the Thunderbirds.
Winterhawks goalie Cole Kehler made 31 saves on the night as Seattle generated some good scoring chances but couldn’t find the back of the net.
“I didn’t like our game in some aspects,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We had some chances early and we didn’t execute. Guys are fumbling pucks around the net that if they handle, go in. I think that’s the frustrating, you want to have your best game every game and we didn’t have our best today.”
Seattle (45-20-4-2) had some chances early on when it went to the power play on the game’s first shift. They missed the empty net on a couple of occasions, something that would become a theme for the evening.
“We had a chance to get up one, or 2-0 and then they got up and I felt like we were chasing all game,” Konowalchuk said. “That’s execution, we had a couple of empty nets and just kind of threw them on net instead of just bearing down.”
The Thunderbirds would end the evening 0-for-3 on the power play.
The only good news for Seattle on Saturday is that it started to get some of its injured players back on the ice. Mathew Barzal was still out of the lineup but Scott Eansor played in his first game since Jan. 14th.
Eansor said that he wanted to get into the two games this weekend to prepare for the playoffs next week.
“I was really pushing to get into these two games before playoffs,” Eansor said. “Going into the playoffs from zero to 60, I mean, that’s not the smartest thing on your body.”
Playing mostly on the fourth line, Eansor picked up an assist on the night and was happy to be back.
“It’s tough,” Eansor said about sitting out. “I mean, especially being a leader, its tough to be up there. It helps that the team had the success they’ve had, and having Matty back, that really helped. I’m happy we were winning and I just hope I can contribute in the playoffs.”
The Winterhawks scored the game’s first goal on a shot that rebounded off the end boards and back out in front of the net. Veloso was there to knock it into an empty net for his 17th marker of the season.
Veloso would add to the Portland lead early in the second period when he flung a wrist shot through traffic from the left faceoff circle.
The Thunderbirds responded to cut the lead when Eansor fought off a check in the corner and found Ryan Gropp in the slot. Gropp would convert for his career-best 35th goal of the year.
Early in the third period, the Winterhawks scored a big goal when Veloso fed a crashing Alex Overhardt in the slot. Overhardt slammed the puck past Matt Berlin for his 14th of the year.
Seattle continued to generate some chances but just couldn’t find the goal it needed and when Keoni Texeira found the empty Thunderbirds net with 39 seconds, it was all over. The Thunderbirds will finish the regular season Sunday, but won’t be able to win the U.S. Division.
“It is disappointing,” Eansor said of the division race. “We give Everett total credit. They held onto in and did a great job. We wanted another banner up in the rafters but that’s in the rear view now and we’re looking for an even better prize.”
The Thunderbirds will wrap up the regular season on Sunday afternoon when they host the Vancouver Giants.
• Berlin made 37 saves on the night as Seattle starter Rylan Toth was a scratch again. Toth is nursing a lower-body injury that he suffered last weekend in Portland.
• Eansor wasn’t the only Thunderbird to get back in the lineup on Saturday. Defenseman Jarret Tyszka played his first game since Feb. 24th and Reece Harsch was in his first since Mar. 4th.
• There was no update on Barzal’s status as the club is still awaiting the results of tests to determine whether or not he has contracted the mumps. He has missed the last four games.
• With the division title no longer in play, Konowalchuk said that there was still something to play for on Sunday. Seattle is tied with Prince George for second in the Western Conference and the Thunderbirds could end up ahead of the Cougars. That would give Seattle home ice in the Western Conference finals, if it were to advance that far.