KENT – Two quick Kamloops Blazers’ goals in the first five minutes on Saturday put the Thunderbirds in a hole and may have been the difference in the game.
The Blazers took that 2-0 lead early and then held off Seattle to earn a 4-2 win in front of 5,052 at the Accesso ShoWare Center. The Blazers’ Garret Pilon led them with three points while rookie goaltender Max Palaga made 24 saves for his second win on the year.
It was a similar story to Friday night’s loss for the Thunderbirds, who have suddenly dropped three straight games. One five-minute lapse combined with not cashing in on scoring chances would cost them.
Friday, it was the start of the second period, Saturday it was the start of the game as Kamloops (7-12-0-0) put Seattle (9-7-1-11) in a hole early.
“Not the start we wanted,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said bluntly.
The Blazers took the lead on goals by Nick Chyzowski and Ondrej Vala and the Thunderbirds were on their heels right from the start.
“That’s obviously not ideal, especially in your home barn,” Seattle’s Turner Ottenbreit said. “It’s a hole you’ve got to dig yourself out of. I thought we did a good job of that in the second period to get the two back.”
Seattle would get back into the game in the second period, but Kamloops would strike again before the frame ended and then hold off the Thunderbirds in the third period – holding them to only three shots on goal.
The Thunderbirds had chances on Saturday but again, had a hard time finishing them. They also were hindered by a confusing and controversial call in the first period. Down two, it appeared that Palaga had played the puck with his glove and knocked it into his own net.
Officials on the ice quickly waived it off and determined that Palaga had frozen the puck outside of the blue paint in the crease. That’s a delay-of-game penalty, which was called, and thus the play was technically over before he knocked the puck in the net.
Seattle failed to score on the ensuing power play and had missed another golden chance to score.
“You have to stay positive,” O’Dette said. “It’s frustrating but it’s a long season and you can’t dwell on the puck not going in the net for you. You have to focus on the next game, next shift. The bounces aren’t always going to go your way, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Blazers early scoring started while on the power play. Off the face off, Pilon fired a point shot at 1:30 that was tipped by Chyzowski past goalie Liam Hughes.
It didn’t take Kamloops long to add on as defenseman Ondrej Vala took a shot from the blue line that Hughes couldn’t corral at 4:58 to make it 2-0 early.
That goal was the seventh straight Seattle had allowed without a response going back over the previous 65 minutes of hockey.
The Thunderbirds would end that stretch at 3:42 of the second period when Matthew Wedman centered the puck to a streaking Blake Bargar, who banged it past Palaga. It was Bargar’s fifth and cut the lead in half.
Playing with the momentum the Thunderbirds quickly scored again to tie the game at two. On a power play less than two minutes after the Bargar score, Nolan Volcan would score his sixth of the season when he swatted the puck out of the air and past Palaga.
The game settled down from there, but Kamloops would jump back ahead late, at 15:31 of the second, when Quinn Benjafield made a couple of slick moves to get in close and slide his fourth goal of the year past Hughes.
Down a goal in the third, Seattle kept pushing but it couldn’t find the net. They had several close calls but as the trend of late, couldn’t get the bounces to go its way. Jermaine Loewen would ice it for the Blazers with an empty-net score with just 29 seconds left on the clock.
“You’ve just got to bear down and I think it will start going our way,” Ottenbreit said. “The bounces will start going our way.”
Seattle’s busy week will continue with a home game on Tuesday against the Eastern Division Prince Albert Raiders. The Thunderbirds know that they’ll have to improve, avoid the costly lapses, and find a way to cash in on their opportunities.
“The margin for error is not very big when you’re not scoring goals,” O’Dette said. “We’ve got to regroup, pick our chins up. We’ve got a home game on Tuesday and a chane to get back on track.”
• Seattle had to play the majority of the game without Sami Moilanen. The Finnish import took a big hit in the first period and did not return. O’Dette said that Moilanen was still being evaluated and the severity of the injury was unknown immediately after the game. Moilanen leads the T-Birds with 11 goals this season.
• The Thunderbirds ended the night 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
• Hughes got the start on Saturday and made 28 saves on the evening.
• The game got chippy at the end and 26 minutes of penalties were handed out at the 19:41 mark.