KENT – With all the stars on both rosters, it was a lesser known depth player that ultimately came up big for the Regina Pats against the Thunderbirds on Tuesday.
Robbie Holmes, a former 11th round draft pick who had only two goals during the regular season, scored his third postseason goal early in the second period to give the Pats a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the WHL Championships. The win gives Regina a 2-1 lead in the series.
“It’s something pretty cool,” Holmes said. “Something that you always want to do. I’m pretty happy about it.”
Holmes gave the Pats the lead and goalie Tyler Brown stood tall to make 35 saves to get his squad a big win. Brown was at his best in the third period as the Thunderbirds desperately tried to find the equalizer. They had a number of great scoring chances but either missed the net or were stopped by Brown.
“You don’t want to miss the net on point blank chances, and we need more traffic,” said Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk. “We were generating some things there so we’ll look at different ways to capitalize on our chances.”
Seattle had a great opportunity with less than a minute left in the game when T-Birds went on their fourth power play. With goalie Carl Stankowski on the bench, it was a 6-on-4 chance and it looked like they might turn it into a 6-on-3. Mathew Barzal had the puck and was taken down just inside the Regina zone by Wyatt Sloboshan.
There were 35 seconds left in the game. Not only did Seattle not get its three-man advantage, the officials whistled Barzal for embellishment. That took Barzal off the ice for the rest of the time as Seattle was unable to score.
“I didn’t get an explanation,” Konowalchuk said of the call. “In my opinion, it should 100 percent be a penalty (on Regina). The guy dropped his stick and raised his hands. That’s usually the sure sell sign, if players do something wrong they usually raise their hands. They’re the ones to tell you if they did something wrong.
“(Barzal) has the puck and we’ve got good possession there, he doesn’t embellish anyway, but he’s not going to embellish there and lose momentum. I thought that was the wrong call there.”
Looking for some offense, Konowalchuk mixed up his lines during the course of the game, moving players like Ryan Gropp and Donovan Neuls up and down the lineup.
“I thought Donny Neuls was playing well and I wanted to put him up there,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought the guys were playing well; I’m going to try and get them on the ice.”
As it did in Game 2, Seattle’s penalty problem popped up again in the first period and the Pats made them pay. Connor Hobbs had the puck on Regina’s first power play at the blue line and fired a shot that beat Stankowski to open the scoring.
It was the fourth consecutive goal scored by Regina in the series.
The Thunderbirds broke that streak later in the period with a power-play marker of their own. Alexander True parked himself right in front and easily deflected in a pass from Barzal.
Regina continued the special teams theme in the first period when Chase Harrison flung a wrist shot from nearly the same spot that Hobbs scored from to make it 2-1 for the visitors.
Seattle answered seven minutes later when a Tyer Adams shot was partially blocked but Sami Moilanen picked up the puck in the slot. He skated in on Brown, made one move and slid the puck past the Regina goaltender for his fifth score of the postseason.
Early in the second period, the Pats took the lead on an odd-man rush that ended with Holmes scoring on a wrist shot. That turned out to be the Pats’ game-winner.
“I thought it was a real gritty playoff game,” Regina coach John Paddock said. “Those kind of games are what the playoffs are all about. A one-goal game, the third one in a row. It shows that there’s not much difference between the teams.”
Regina had a chance to ice the win with seven minutes left, when Sam Steel was hooked on a breakaway. He was awarded a penalty shot but a Stankowski pad save stopped the former Anaheim Ducks’ first-round draft pick. That ignited the 6,178 fans at the ShoWare Center and they gave the rookie netminder a long, standing ovation. Stankowski ended the night with 25 saves.
The Thunderbirds ended the third period by firing 18 shots at Brown but, unfortunately for Seattle, it wasn’t enough momentum to result in the game-tying goal.
It was the first time Seattle has lost back-to-back games in regulation since losses on Dec. 13th and 18th. With two more games at home this week, there is plenty of time for Seattle to rebound.
“We’re in the WHL Champioship,” Barzal said. “I don’t think it’s time to dwell on a couple of losses here. We’ve got to bounce back and get excited again. I’ve got a lot of confidence in this group; we’re a pretty lively group so I’m sure we’re going to bring the energy tomorrow.”
Game 4 is Wednesday at 7 p.m.
• Regina will try to send Seattle to its third straight loss on Wednesday. The Thunderbirds only lost three in a row once this year.
• This was only Seattle’s third loss at home since Jan. 1st.
• Regina has been good with the man advantage in this series.
• Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan will be on hand for Tuesday’s Game 4 to drop the ceremonial puck. Ryan is from Regina.