KENT – For the second straight season, the Seattle Thunderbirds will be playing for the Western Conference championship.
Seattle dispatched of their division rival Everett Silvertips with a convincing 4-1 win at the ShoWare Center on Friday night. The win gave Seattle a series sweep as it made quick work of the Silvertips.
It was another team effort for the Thunderbirds – who are now 8-0 in the playoffs – in Game 4.
“I respect the hell out of all our players in there,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They’re a good character group this year and last year. They’re a good group and its fun to come to work and work with these guys…it’s all credit to the players.”
Keegan Kolesar scored twice and added an assist to pace the offense while rookie Carl Stankowski made 24 saves for his eight straight post-season victory.
Seattle lost out on the division title to Everett during the regular season by just two points, despite winning more games. None of that matters now however as the Thunderbirds are on to the next round.
“Everyone knows it’s about playoffs,” Konowalchuk said. “We knew that coming in and you build your team for the playoffs. Did we want the division? Yeah, but we’re happy that we’re advancing, we didn’t dwell on it too much when it didn’t happen.”
The Thunderbirds will move on to face a familiar foe in the Kelowna Rockets, who ousted the Portland Winterhawks Friday in their second-round series by a 4-1 tally. Last season Seattle swept the Rockets in the conference finals on the way to the second finals appearance in the franchises’ history.
“It’s very exciting to be in the same spot,” Kolesar said. “To do it in the manner that we have is exciting. Still trying to take it all in right now.”
Despite a tentative first period the Thunderbirds struck first for the fourth time in the series. It came while killing a penalty as Donovan Neuls stole the puck at the blue line and was off to the races. He actually lost control of the puck as he closed in on Carter Hart but that fooled the Everett goalie and the puck slid underneath him.
“I deked myself out,” Neuls said with a chuckle. “I got lucky I guess.”
For Neuls it was his fifth goal of the playoffs as he continues his hot play. That hot play didn’t keep his teammates from ribbing him over the manner in which he scored the game’s first goal.
“I have no comment,” Kolesar said of the goal with a wry smile.
Seattle would extend their lead a few minutes later when Kolesar somehow deflected a point shot from Turner Ottenbreit past Hart for his fifth of the post season.
Kolesar would then set up Seattle’s third goal on the power play when he one-timed a pass from the slot to Mathew Barzal who potted his fourth goal of the series.
Up 3-0 the Thunderbirds had a bit of déjà vu when Dominic Zwerger got Everett on the board when he was able to steal a puck while short-handed and slide it past Stankowski to cut the lead to 3-1.
Unlike Game 3 when Everett erased a three-goal deficit with four straight, Seattle would respond quickly.
It would be Kolesar again. He beat Hart with a heavy wrist shot after a toe-drag in the high slot. That reinstated Seattle’s three-goal lead and the Thunderbirds began to tilt the ice. They ended the second period outshooting the Silvertips 17-5.
“They’re a team that won’t give up,” Kolesar said of the Silvertips. “Just like any other team in this league, they’re not going to give up. Just wanted to make a stamp and let them know that we weren’t going to give up either. We weren’t going to stand and watch them come back again.”
The Silvertips wouldn’t come back on this night and will end their season with a division title, but also with an early exit from the post season. Everett pushed hard in the third period but couldn’t get any traction and when they did, Stankowski was there.
The young goalie made his best saves late in the game to keep the Thunderbirds in the lead.
“I don’t think he got tested a ton early but I tell you, in that third period he made some good back-door saves,” Konowalchuk said. “He was calm all night and part of the reason he didn’t get tested is he was controlling his rebounds and keeping it calm.”
With Everett dispatched, the Thunderbirds will move on for a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Championship against the Rockets. The Thunderbirds will worry about that series on Saturday morning as they will take the rest of Friday to enjoy the series win.
“It feels like we’ve got a lot of work to do yet,” Konowalchuk said. “But we have two series behind us now against tough teams. We knew that would be a big fight and they fought to the end.”
• Game 1 of the Western Conference Final will be Friday, April 21st at the ShoWare Center with Game 2 the following night. Game’s 3 and 4 will be in Kelowna on April 25th and 26th.
• The Thunderbirds have played 481:30 minutes of playoff hockey over eight games to date. They have scored first in every contest and have only trailed for a total of 18 minutes and 20 seconds.
• Seattle was cheered off the ice by a loud crowd of 5,438 fans, armed with noise makers. “We have an unbelievable fan base,” Kolesar said. “Coming from last year and the year before. You look down our hallway right here and we have a huge group of fans and family and everyone that wants to support us every night. It’s so inspiring to see.”
• While they didn’t show up on the score sheet in Game 4, the line of Nolan Volcan, Scott Eansor and Sami Moilanen were big again for Seattle. They were on the ice all series against Everett’s top line of Patrick Bajkov, Zwerger and Matt Fonteyne. Bajkov was held to one even-strength assist, Zwerger two and Fonteyne was pointless in the four games.
• Seattle is now 12-2 all time against Everett in the post season.