KENT – There’s nothing like hosting a last-place team when you’re trying to tune up for the playoffs.
Sunday afternoon, the Thunderbirds hosted the Vancouver Giants and had their way, winning 6-1 in the last regular season game of the season.
Seattle (46-20-4-2) scored early and often against Vancouver (20-46-3-3) and will end the season with the most wins in the Western Conference. The Thunderbirds were paced on offense by a pair of goals from both Alexander True and Nolan Volcan and were never really pushed.
“The guys had a lot of energy to start the game,” Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Good character that we’ve shown all year. It was a game that we definitely wanted to get a point in but that’s easier said than done.”
Coming into the game, the T-Birds did not know who their first-round opponent would be. While they were taking care of Vancouver, Portland lost to Spokane and the Tri City Americans made a remarkable comeback to beat Everett in overtime. Those results mean that Seattle will face Tri City in the first round.
“I think we just played hard,” Volcan said of Sunday’s win. “We had a good mindset coming into the last game of the year. We went out with a bang and we go into the playoffs with confidence. Right now we’ve just got to get ready for Tri Cities.”
For Volcan, it was one of his strongest games and comes at an important part of the season. He broke a long streak of games without a goal last weekend and getting him rolling as the team heads into the playoffs is big.
“He knows that his goals will come,” Konowalchuk said of Volcan. “It comes by being really hard to play against and that engages him offensively. He can be a pain-in-the-butt forward to play against.”
The goals were Volcan’s 15th and 16th on the season. He scored last weekend in Portland after not scoring since just before the new year.
“Its tough,” Volcan said. “It seems like it happens to me every year and I had a really good first half and I thought it was coming. Then I got injured and came back. Injuries are always a factor, second half of the season but it’s nice to get some confidence.”
Injuries continue to be the big question mark surrounding the Thunderbirds. Scott Eansor, Jarret Tyszka and Reece Harsch all played again on Sunday but the team is still waiting to see if goalie Rylan Toth and star Mathew Barzal will be in the lineup come Friday’s Game 1.
If they do come back, Game 1 could be the first time all season that Seattle has been able to ice its complete lineup.
“It would be exciting,” Konowalchuk said about the injured players. “We’ll see. It will be good to get those guys back.”
The Thunderbirds wasted no time getting on the board Sunday as they scored on their first shift. Keegan Kolesar fed a trailing True, who fired a wrist shot from the high slot past Vancouver goalie David Tendeck.
Seattle continued to pressure the Giants, outshooting them 10-2 in the game’s first nine minutes. The 10th shot would find the net as Volcan popped a shot over Tendeck’s shoulder for his 15th of the season.
The T-Birds piled on the goals in the second, scoring three times.
It started two minutes in when Elijah Brown potted his fourth goal with a nice toe-drag, wrist shot. Four minutes later, Matthew Wedman deflected an Austin Strand shot past Tendeck to make it 4-0.
True scored his second of the night after Kolesar dug the puck out of the corner and found him in the slot for his 25th of the season. Volcan would end the second-period onslaught when Sami Moilanen made a nice pass from behind the goal.
Seattle outshot the Giants 12-3 in the period and kept their foot on the gas.
The Giants got on the board late in the third period on a goal by Johnny Wesley.
With a week to go before facing a Tri City team that it went 6-2 against in the regular season, Seattle is looking to fine tune its game during the off week.
“Most of it will be fine tuning our details,” Konowalchuk said. “Getting mentally prepared for whatever it takes. We’ve got a real good team coming in here and we’ve got to be prepared and do what we need to take care of.”
Game 1 of the playoffs will be Friday night at the ShoWare Center, starting at 7:35 p.m.
• Rookie goalie Carl Stankowski got the start on Sunday and made 19 saves for his third win of the year.
• Seattle ends the season by going 28-6-1-1 in its last 36 games.
• Despite not winning the U.S. Division or Western Conference, the T-Birds ended the season with the most wins in the conference. Seattle won 46 games this season, which is two more than Everett and one more than the B.C. Division winner, Prince George.
• Kolesar picked up two assists on Sunday to end his season with 60 points, which is one point short of his career high set last season. Of course, this year’s number was reached in 10 fewer games.
• In a touching moment after the game, the T-Birds gathered around Vancouver’s Calvin Spencer to say goodbye. Spencer played two seasons for Seattle and Sunday was his last game in the WHL.