EVERETT – With overtime looming, the Seattle Thunderbirds were determined to end it before it got that far in Friday night’s Game 1 with the Everett Silvertips.
Everett had tied the game up with 1:38 left but may have left too much time on the clock for the T-Birds. Seattle’s top line, which featured the return of star Mathew Barzal, took the ice and would cash in when Donovan Neuls scored on a put-back with just under a minute left in the game.
That would be enough and Seattle skated away from the Xfinity Arena with a 3-2 Game 1 victory.
“It was good work by Barzy there and he just got the puck to the net,” Neuls said of the game-winner. “(Keegan Kolesar) batted it down for me and I just got it in the net.”
It was an emotional win as the T-Birds never trailed in the game but did see the Silvertips tie it up twice. As they have through five playoff games so far, the Thunderbirds had an answer.
“You’ve really got to try and keep the emotions in check,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They had a big goal there to tie it and give them some life. Our guys stuck to the game plan and a good shift. It’s nice to get that goal there and not have to go into overtime.”
The story before the game was whether or not Barzal would return. The New York Islanders prospect hadn’t played since becoming ill on March 8th.
Barzal was back in the lineup but Seattle was still without Ryan Gropp and goalie Rylan Toth.
He made his presence felt early in the second period when he scored on a Seattle power play. His initial shot was stopped by Carter Hart but Barzal followed up, dug out his own rebound and deposited it past the Everett goaltender to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
“Carter’s probably one of the top two goalies in the league,” Barzal said of the goal. “So he doesn’t give up many goals so you have to go for those second efforts and get a rebound.”
For not having played in so long, Barzal didn’t show too many signs of rust. He played a lot of minutes and ended the night with a goal and an assist. He said it was hard to sit out and miss so much time but watching the team win made it a little easier.
“It’s tough,” he said about the layoff. “The whole staff has been really positive and supportive. Obviously the guys have been playing some good hockey so that always makes it easier.”
Seattle got off to a good start with a heavy forecheck and held the Silvertips to a season-low two shots in the first. Hart kept Everett in it however and ended the night by making 30 saves.
Neuls added an assist to go along with his big goal at the end and the 19-year-old continues his fine play in the post season. With Gropp out, he moved up to the top line and played with Barzal and Kolesar. The two points give him 10 points so far.
He says it helps to play with a guy like Barzal.
“Get your stick on the ice and get open, that’s what I try telling myself.,” Neuls said. “He can find you from anywhere.”
After Barzal gave Seattle the lead in the second period, the Silvertips managed to get the game tied up late in the period when Eetu Tuulola picked up a loose puck in front of Carl Stankowski and lifted it over the prone goalie.
Everett gained some momentum off the late goal to start the third period.
The Thunderbirds would wrestle it back however as Alexander True fought to the front of the net and got a shot that Hart stopped. Tyler Adams dove to his left to knock the rebound in the net to give the T-Birds the lead back.
“He got the goal and he also had a really big blocked shot,” Konowalchuk said of Adams. “He does those little things and it’s nice to see him get a goal for us.”
Adams was the 14th Thunderbird to a score a goal in the team’s first five playoff games which speaks to the depth of the club.
“They’ve got good players that are going to match up with our good players,” Konowalchuk added. “You need different guys to chip in and that’s what makes playoffs fun. Guys who are not known normally for the big goal get an opportunity and feel like they’re a part of it offensively.”
With a 2-1 lead it looked like Seattle had done enough to win.
Everett however, would pull Hart for the extra attacker and cash in when Aaron Irvin fired a slap shot through traffic and found the top corner of the Seattle goal. That sent the 4,588 in the stands into a frenzy and it looked like the two teams were headed for some overtime hockey.
But Konowalchuk put Barzal’s line out after the goal and Neuls would end up winning it for him.
“You’re not playing for overtime right,” Konowalchuk said. “In the regular season you’re thinking ‘take the point and we’ll get it in overtime’. Here, whether you get it there or in overtime, its huge. They were real good to come back that way.”
With the win, the T-Birds have taken home ice away from the Silvertips and will look to take a 2-0 lead on Saturday night when the two clubs will meet again.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Konowalchuk said. “We play here tomorrow, that’s all that matters and then we’ll worry about the next game. We know we’re going to get a real good team tomorrow and we need to make sure we’re putting this behind us real quick.”
• There was a lot of speculation as to what the nature of Barzal’s illness was. It was reported in some places that he had the mumps while other’s suggested he had mono. When asked, he smiled and said “no comment.”
• Friday night saw a large contingent of Seattle fans at the Xfinity Arena. Throughout the game they made their presence felt and it was noticed by the players. “At the start of the game we heard them chanting ‘Everett Sucks’,” Neuls said. “That always gives you a smile before the game starts. It lets you know they’re following us and there were lots of fans all over the rink.”
• Stankowski was solid in net again for Seattle. He is now 5-0 in the playoffs and has yet to give up more than two goals in a game. He made 21 saves on Friday night to pick up the win.
• The last time the T-Birds trailed in a game was during their March 18th loss to the Portland Winterhawks. They have won six straight games since then.