KENT – Playing his last game at home, Seattle’s Mathew Barzal went out in style.
Barzal scored twice while adding an assist to spark the Thunderbirds to a 7-4 win in Game 5 that puts them one win away from winning the first WHL Championship in franchise history.
It was Barzal’s second goal, in the second period, that broke a 3-3 tie and sent the Thunderbirds on their way. It came on the power play and off of a one-timer from the faceoff circle. It was the second Seattle marker over a 57 second span and it swung the momentum.
It would be the second time in the game that Seattle had erased a Regina lead.
“I thought our guys did a good job just sticking with it,” Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Just keep playing, not really worrying about the scoreboard too much.”
Seattle got down by two goals in the game’s first few minutes but as they have all season, they shook it off and fought back.
“It was kind of up and down and they got off to a quick start,” Ryan Gropp said. “We never quit and stuck with it and finished it off.”
Playing in front of the largest crowd in the history of the ShoWare Center, Seattle delighted the fans as they take a 3-2 series lead as the two teams will head back to Regina for Sunday’s Game 6.
There were a lot of stars for Seattle on Friday night.
Gropp scored a goal with an assist, Keegan Kolesar also scored while setting up two goals and Donovan Neuls had a two-point night that included a big goal in the first period. Scott Eansor, also playing in his last game at the ShoWare Center, picked up an assist while having to contend with Regina star Sam Steel all night.
Eansor, along with Nolan Volcan and Sami Moilanen made life difficult for Steel and the Pats top line, keeping the 2016 Anaheim Ducks first-round pick scoreless. As the series shifts to Regina, Konowalchuk won’t have last change and Barzal and Seattle’s other lines will have to step up.
“It’s a nice luxury to have,” Konowalchuk said about his top two lines. “I expect them both to go out there and play well against those lines. I expect (Alexander True) can as well. It’s a hard challenge, it’s a real good line, but I have confidence in those lines.”
As good as the end was for Seattle on Friday, it didn’t start well.
Regina quieted the large crowd with an early goal a minute into the game. Josh Mahura let loose a wrist shot form the blue line that made its way through traffic and past Carl Stankowski. It was the Regina defenseman’s third goal of the series.
The Pats doubled their lead two minutes later when Jeff de Witt won a battle along the boards and beat Stankowski with a short-side wrist shot.
Two early goals raised the anxiety level of the crowd but Seattle responded.
“There were a couple guys who stepped up and said not to worry,” Barzal said about the reaction on the bench to the early goals. “There were 55 minutes left so I really liked the way we responded.”
On the power play, Donovan Neuls cut the lead in half when he back-handed a rebound off Tyler Brown in the net for his eighth of the playoffs. That goal got the crowd back into and it rose to a frenzy when the Pats took another quick penalty that the T-Birds would cash in on.
This time it would be Barzal, scoring his first of the series. He got a pass from Kolesar in the high slot. He had a ton of room, picked his spot and ripped a wrist shot that scored. The goal extended Barzal’s playoff point streak to 19 games, dating back to last season’s post season.
In the second period, the Thunderbirds looked to be taking control of the contest.
They were generating the better scoring chances and were wearing down the Pats. Seattle had a chance to take the lead on a power play six minutes into the frame but Brown gave his team a boost with several key saves. Regina killed it off and then took the lead back when Dawson Leedahl would score on a Pats power play three minutes later.
Despite having the lead, the Pats couldn’t slow down Seattle.
The Thunderbirds kept buzzing and Kolesar got the game even when he loosed a wrister past Brown off of the rush. After the play, Regina’s Austin Wagner was called for a roughing call that put Seattle right on the power play.
That’s when Barzal would score again with a one-timer slap shot from the circle. It gave Seattle a 4-3 lead that they never would relinquish. The goal was also the third power-play conversion on the night as the Thunderbids took advantage of their special teams.
“Obviously, the special teams battle in this series has been a huge key in pretty much every win,” Barzal said. “I thought our guys did a good job tonight.”
Seattle led by one goal after two periods and Stankowski made his best save early in the third period. Wagner had a breakaway but the Thunderbirds’ rookie stood tall and made save to preserve the lead.
He would end the night with 33 saves as he continues to be one of the brightest stories in the playoffs.
“Huge saves in the second half of that game,” Konowalchuk said of his goaltender. “When the other team is making a push, to get the timely save is so important. He’s a confident kid and a good goaltender.”
Spurred on by the big save, the Thunderbirds extended the lead moments later on a tap-in goal by Volcan to make it 5-3. Just over a minute later, Gropp would score for the second straight game and the party was on at the ShoWare Center.
Wagner scored late for Regina to cut the lead but the Thunderbirds iced the win with a late, empty-net score off the stick of Turner Ottenbreit.
The Thunderbirds now find themselves one win away from hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the first time in the 40-year history of the franchise. They’ll have to do it in Regina however as the Pats will get a chance to stay alive on home ice.
“I don’t think the players need to focus on the outcome,” Konowalchuk said about the game on Sunday. “Just focus on playing the game the right way. We get out there and focus on playing the right way and doing the things you can control.”
• The Pats have faced elimination already in this post season. In their second round series with Swift Current they came back from a 3-1 deficit and won the next three games to advance. Will that help them now as they face elimination for the fourth time? “We did things right when we were down in that situation,” Regina head coach John Paddock said. “We have lots of belief in the team, lots of belief going back into our building, that’s why we did all we could to finish first overall.”
• The attendance on Friday night was 6,223 which beat the previous ShoWare record by three people. “It was electric,” Gropp said of the crowd. “It was crazy, it was the loudest building I’ve ever played in so it was definitely a lot of fun. It helped us out on the ice.”
• Barzal played his last game at the ShoWare Center on Friday night and did so with two dramatic goals. “It’s cool, its been a great four years here and I’ve matured a lot as a player and as a person,” he said of Friday. “To go out with a nice night like that, you couldn’t ask for more and now we’re just chasing the next one.”
• If Regina wins Game 6 on Sunday, the deciding Game 7 will be played Monday night at the Brandt Centre.