The Thunderbirds squandered a chance to go up two games to none Saturday night in Game 2 of the WHL Championship.
After building a 3-1 lead in the second period, Seattle lost some discipline and the Regina Pats tied the game in the third and sent it to overtime for a second straight night. In the overtime, discipline would become an issue again.
Keegan Kolesar kneed Regina’s Connor Hobbs after the whistle and was assessed a two-minute penalty. On the ensuing power play, Josh Mahura scored on a shot from the point to give the Pats a 4-3 win and tie the series.
Playing a night after sitting out Game 1 due to suspension, Kolesar appeared to let his emotions get the best of him.
“You don’t want your player, or any player, to be in that situation to get a penalty,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after. “Mistakes happen and I’ll go to battle with Keegan anytime, he does so much for our team, he’s an emotional kid and it’s an emotional game.”
Seattle seemed to be in control of the game after erupting for three scores over a 56 second span in the second period. They had a 3-1 lead and had silenced the big crowd at the Brandt Center.
The T-Birds then took four penalties to close out the period and it gave the Pats life.
Regina would score on one of the power plays as Mahura would pot his first of the night when he punched in a loose rebound after a Carl Stankowski save. That cut the Seattle lead to 3-2 going into the final 20 minutes.
“We had a real good second but at the end of the second we got into some penalty trouble which gave them some life back and some momentum,” Konowalchuk said. “They’re not going to quit, we know that. Overall I thought another good competitive hockey game.”
The Pats carried that momentum into the third period and picked up the equalizer after a bad Seattle turnover in its own end. Filip Ahl picked the puck up and snapped a shot past Stankowski to tie things up at three.
It would be the second Regina goal that was scored off a bad turnover.
Regina opened the scoring just 50 seconds into the game after the T-Birds fumbled the puck behind their own net. Sam Steel picked it up, made one deke and slid it in the goal for his ninth of the playoffs.
“I think at this level of play every little detail is magnified,” Seattle’s Scott Eansor said. “You have to pick your teammates up when bad things happen and capitalize when the other team makes mistakes.”
Down a goal in the second period, the Thunderbirds erupted to take a lead.
It started with Austin Strand scoring on a slapper from the point and through traffic. Just 16 seconds after that goal, Turner Ottenbreit would fling a puck from nearly the same spot on the ice that beat Regina goalie Tyler Brown.
Ottenbreit has become public enemy number one in Regina after his Game 1 hit on Adam Brooks knocked the Regina captain out of the game. Brooks didn’t play in Game 2 and Ottenbreit continued to hear it from the Pats’ faithful any time he touched the puck.
When asked after the game whether the booing motivated him, the big defenseman shrugged it off.
“It doesn’t not motivate you,” Ottenbreit said. “I guess, it’s just there. You don’t really notice it.”
His goal gave Seattle a lead and they would add on to that 40 seconds later when Alexander True scored on a rebound after a Ryan Gropp shot while the Thunderbirds were on the power play. Seattle ended the night 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
Up 3-1 it looked like the Thunderbirds were in charge.
That’s when the penalties started popping up and in the end, the Pats went 2-for-7 on the power play.
No penalty was as costly as Kolesar’s in the overtime period. After the game, Regina Pats head coach John Paddock seemed to be angling for a suspension.
“I’ve seen kneeing like that a long time ago when I was playing,” he said in the post-game press conference. “Even in those days you got suspended…That’s not really a hockey play, it’s more like a street play.”
It was the second straight night that Paddock referenced earlier days in hockey history as he compared Ottenbreit to former New Jersey star Scott Stevens after Game 1.
The series will now shift back for three games at the ShoWare Center. The Thunderbirds have only lost twice at home since the start of the calendar year and have not lost back-to-back games since mid-December.
While the Thunderbirds lost Saturday thanks to some self-inflicted wounds, they are in pretty good shape and have a chance to win the title at home ice next week.
“It’s nice to be home and nice to get in your own bed,” Konowalchuk said about returning home. “Our fans are nice and loud and they’ll be behind our team and our guys feed of that a little bit.”
Game 3 is Tuesday night at 7 pm at the ShoWare Center.
• In the post-game press conference, Ottenbreit was asked if he had objects thrown at him during warm ups. Neither he nor Konowalchuk claimed to know anything about such an incident.
• Mathew Barzal added an assist on the night and has a point in all 12 games he’s played in this post season. Going back to last season he has a point in 16 straight playoff games.
• Regina goalie Tyler Brown has been overshadowed by the Stankowski story but turned in an outsanding performance on Saturday. He made 27 saves and came up with several clutch stops late in regulation to get the game into overtime.
• Five out of the last seven WHL Championship Series games have been decided in overtime, going back to last year. Seattle lost the first three games to Brandon in that series, all in overtime, all by a 3-2 score.